15 frequently confused pairs of verbs

Here’s a guide to sort out pairings that can vex us all.

These similar-looking words have dissimilar meanings. Make sure you’re using the right one in each pair.

1. Amused/bemused: To be amused is to be entertained; to be bemused is to be confused.

2. Appraise/apprise: To appraise is to evaluate; to apprise is to inform.

3. Ascribe/subscribe: To ascribe is to attach an idea to a source; to subscribe is to hold belief in an idea.

4. Attain/obtain: To attain is to reach; to obtain is to acquire.

5. Barter/haggle: To barter is to trade; to haggle is to negotiate.

6. Born/borne: To be born is to be brought forth; to be borne is to be carried along.

7. Borrow/loan: To borrow is to receive something for temporary use; to loan is to provide something on those terms.

8. Careen/career: To careen is to lean over to one side or to sway; to career is to hurry carelessly. (And to carom is to ricochet.)

9. Censor/censure: To censor is to ban; to censure is to reprimand.

10. Criticize/critique: To criticize is to judge harshly or in a negative manner; to critique is to evaluate.

11. Denigrate/deprecate: To denigrate is to defame or belittle; to deprecate is to disapprove or deemphasize (but can also, like denigrate, mean to disparage).

12. Differ/vary: To differ is to disagree or to be distinct from; to vary is to change (although differ can also refer to variation).

13. Espouse/expound: To espouse is to support; to expound means to state, explain, or defend (which is also distinct from the phrase “expand on,” which means to provide additional or digressive details).

14. Rebut/refute: To rebut is to argue in response to another argument; to refute is to deny an argument.

15. Wangle/wrangle: To wangle is to obtain by underhanded means; to wrangle is to wrestle.

A version of this post originally ran on DailyWritingTips.com.


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