10 Sets of Words That Confuse

I love words, but I often find myself second-guessing whether I’m using a certain word properly — especially when two words are similar in sound, spelling or meaning.

If you love words, you know how confusing the English language can be.

Consider this simple choice. Would you say:
Over a dozen skiers flew over the jump.

Or would you say:
More than a dozen skiers made it over the jump.

Here are 10 sets of words from my latest favorite book, Word Trippers: Your Ultimate Source for Choosing the Perfect Word When It Really Matters by Barbara McNichol.

1) browse vs. peruse
Browse means to look at or review something in a casual or leisurely way.
Peruse means to look at something in a thorough or careful way.

When we read a newsletter, we might browse through it, scanning headlines and photos to see what grabs our attention.
When we peruse a report, we look at it in detail, thoroughly examining its content.

2) convince vs. persuade
Convince means to cause a person to believe firmly in the truth of something.
Persuade means using reason or argument to get someone to take action.

After I convinced him of the importance of water conservation, I persuaded him to redesign his landscaping with rocks and drought-resistant plants.

3) elder vs. older
Elder as a noun means someone from an earlier period, or an officer or influential leader of a tribe or community.
Elder as an adjective refers to the older of two or more specified people.
Older is an adjective that describes someone who has lived for many years.
Elder generally is used when referring to people, while older can apply to people or objects.

The elder of two sisters has an antique tea set that is older than either of them.

4) injured vs. wounded
Injured as an adjective refers to something or someone who has been wronged, harmed or impaired.
Wounded describes something or someone who has been injured by a weapon, feels emotional pain, or suffers from an action intended to be hurtful.
The verb forms — to injure or to wound — are similar.
As nouns, an injury in medical terms is a specific type of injury that breaks the skin or damages tissue. A wound typically results from harmful intent, and it usually occurs by accident or circumstance.

Nine passengers on a bus were injured in a crash after a man wielding a knife wounded the driver.

5) momento vs. memento
Momento is not a word, although it often is used instead of memento, which is a reminder of the past, a keepsake.

My mother’s attic was packed with mementos of her long life.
Tip: Think of the word memory, which starts the same as memento.

6) over vs. more than
Over implies a geographic position or crossing a barrier.
More implies an increasing number.

I saw several skiers fly over the huge jump.
More than a dozen skiers made it over the huge jump.

7) presumptive vs. presumptuous
Presumptive means based on probability or providing grounds for reasonable basis for belief or acceptance.
Presumptuous means going beyond what is proper or courteous.

Prince Charles no longer is the presumptive heir to the British throne, as Queen Elizabeth recently named her grandson Prince William for that role.
The presumptuous couple walked by the hostess and sat at a table of their choosing.

8) rein vs. reign
A rein is a leather strap used by a rider or driver to control a horse or other animal.
To reign means to rule or to possess power over someone or something.

The rider pulled hard on the reins to stop her horse.
It appears that Prince Charles will never reign as a British monarch.

9) testimony vs. testimonial
A testimony is a declaration or statement of fact, usually given under oath in court.
A testimonial is a statement certifying a person’s character, conduct or qualifications; a recommendation of a person, a product or a service.

The judge considered her testimony critical to his sentencing decision.
The reviewer’s testimonial helped the author sell truckloads of books.

10) wreck vs. wreak
Wreck means to cause the ruin of or destruction of something.
Wreak means to inflict or bring about a large amount of damage, punishment or harm, sometimes in revenge or retribution.

Every boat in the harbor was wrecked by the hurricane.
The hurricane wreaked havoc on the Florida coast, destroying everything in its path.

If you want to explore other word pairs that might trip you up, consider ordering Barbara’s book. (Other options: PDF NOOK, Kindle)

Or for weekly reminders, subscribe to her yearlong subscription that puts a new Word Tripper in your inbox every week and brings you bonuses throughout the year to help you boost your writing skills.

Words … we have so many to choose from. Let me know the words that trip you up.

Kathy Watson
Follow me

Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

Follow Me: LinkedIn  Twitter  G+
Kathy Watson
Follow me

Latest posts by Kathy Watson (see all)

Like it? Share it!
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

4 thoughts on “10 Sets of Words That Confuse

  1. Liz Boulter

    Generally love and agree with your blog. But I think I disagree with you on wound/injure. Seems to me a wound is a specific type of injury – one that breaks the skin or some other membrane or tissue. I think a broken leg is an injury, not a wound. Wound management is a specific discipline in medicine, dealing with places where the skin has been broken – by surgery, injury or, say ulceration.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Liz, I defer to your evaluation. When I checked a medical-oriented site, medicineplus.gov, I found this: “Wounds are injuries that break the skin or other body tissues. They include cuts, scrapes, scratches, and punctured skin. They often happen because of an accident, but surgery, sutures, and stitches also cause wounds.” Thanks for shedding light on this pair of words.

Comments are closed.