7 more confusing word pairs

In a previous post, I discussed the distinctions between word pairs such as comprise and compose and imply and infer. The English language is full of problematic word pairs; here are seven more to note.

Oral and verbal

“Oral” means by mouth and should be used when referring to spoken language. It is more precise than verbal.

• Example: The incident was mentioned in an oral report to her supervisor.

“Verbal” means with words, either written or spoken.

• Example: Patrick O’Brian is a verbal virtuoso.

Complement and compliment

“Complement” means to add to or complete. It can also mean the quantity, number, or assortment required to make a thing complete.

• Example: The information on this website is meant to complement the advice from your physician.
• Example: I have the full complement of style guides and dictionaries.

A “compliment” is an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration. “Complimentary” means favorable or free.

• Example: Was Anna trying to compliment me or insult me?
• Example: The feedback on the article has been very complimentary.
• Example: The tickets were complimentary.

Cord and chord

A “cord” refers to a rope or a bond, an insulated electrical cable, or an anatomical structure.

• Example: I need a power cord to continue writing on my laptop.
• Example: She suffered a vocal cord injury and could no longer sing.

A “chord” is a musical term for a combination of three or more musical notes played together. Chord can also refer to an emotional feeling or response.

• Example: Mastering those chord changes took dexterity and practice.
• Example: Amy’s words struck a sympathetic chord in her audience.

Flaunt and flout

To flaunt is to show off or display ostentatiously.

• Example: Will loved to flaunt his vocabulary by using complex words in everyday conversation.

To flout is to disregard (a rule or custom).

• Example: John flouted the rules by coming to work intoxicated.

Ensure and insure

“Ensure” means to make sure or certain.

• Example: You need to ensure there are no errors in the article.

“Insure” means to take precaution in advance or protect against financial loss.

• Example: He failed to insure his home against flooding.

Regime and regimen

A “regime” is a form of government, social system, or a period of rule.

• Example: Animal Farm is an allegorical tale of the Communist regime.

“Regimen” is a systematic schedule (such as exercise or medication) designed to improve or maintain health.

• Example: The physician prescribed a three-drug regimen for his high blood pressure.

Hone and home

To hone is to sharpen, perfect, or master a skill. It also means to sharpen something with a stone.

• Example: I spend my evenings helping my third-grader hone his writing skills.

“Home”—when used as a verb—means to return to a specific location or reach as specific target. It is usually followed by in or on.

• Example: The conference attendees homed in on the nearest bar.

Readers, any other word pairs you find troublesome?

A version of this story first appeared on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

2 Responses to “7 more confusing word pairs”

  1. PhillipBrandon says:

    I love things like this. I just had a discussion about “jive”:A lively style of dance” versus “jibe”:to mock or jeer.
    A confusion I attribute to widespread head colds.

    Further complicating matters, “jibe” also means “be in accord with.” So the phrase should be (or should I say: Used to be) “That doesn’t jibe with my experience.” Rather than “That doesn’t jive with my experience.”