In a previous PR Daily story, 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?
Laura Hale Brockway is the author of Impertinent Remarks, a blog about writing and editing.