In case you weren’t confused enough . . .

Given my two previous posts on confusing word pairs, I thought I had this topic fairly well covered. We’ve discussed the difference between comprise and compose and hone and home, just to name a few.

Still, I keep running into problematic word pairs; they’re turning up like run-on sentences in a James Joyce novel. Here are seven more pairs to note:

Exacerbate and exasperate
To exacerbate means to worsen (an already bad situation).
Example: Having John write the response will only exacerbate the backlash.

Exasperate means to exhaust, usually someone’s patience. It also means to annoy greatly.
Example: I find your use of sentence fragments to be exasperating.

Cognizant and cognitive
Cognizant means to have awareness, knowledge, or understanding.
Example: Always ask for a writing sample so you can be truly cognizant of the writer’s abilities.

Cognitive means related to the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, thinking, and reasoning.
Example: His unclear writing style leads me to question his cognitive skills.

Wave and waive
As a verb, wave means to make a signal with the hand or to move freely back and forth. As a noun, wave refers to a ridge of water, a surge, or a rising trend.
Example: She waved one last time before she sank beneath the waves.

Waive means to defer, dispense with, or give up voluntarily.
Example: Under what circumstances will you waive the fees?

A somewhat related pair is waver (to shake, flutter, or give way) and waiver (a legal ceding of a right or claim).
Example: Fred’s courage wavered when it came time to sign the waiver.

Tenet and tenant
A tenet is an opinion, doctrine, or principle that is viewed as true by a person or organization.
Example: I do not agree with the AP Stylebook’s tenet on the use of the serial comma.

A tenant is someone who pays rent to use or occupy property owned by another.
Example: The tenant agreement was so riddled with spelling errors that I began to question its legitimacy.

Precede and proceed
Precede means to come before, usually in time.
Example: Copyediting and fact checking should precede publication.

Proceed means to go forward or to continue.
Example: Now that I’ve read your post, you can proceed with uploading it to the site.

Disinterested and uninterested
To be disinterested is to be unbiased or impartial.
Example: I was a disinterested observer of the debate about which style guide to use.

To be uninterested is to be unconcerned, indifferent, or inattentive.
Example: Katherine seems uninterested in an honest critique of her work.

Allusion and illusion
An allusion is an indirect reference, something you allude to.
Example: You risk losing your readers by using so many cryptic literary allusions in your article.

An illusion is a false impression or a deception.
Example: I have no illusions; I lost those once I started writing.

Readers, any other word pairs you find particularly troublesome?

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

Comments are closed.