Commonly confused sound-alike words: Vol. M

Some of these puzzlers are pure homonyms; others look similar, and one pair shares no resemblance at all. How many do you see and hear people get wrong?

My cumulative list continues with 10 sets of words that begin with the letter M. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning:

1. manner/manor

Manner is a way of doing or behaving. Example: “The waiter has a pleasant and helpful manner.” A manor is a house on an estate. Example: “Cardinal Thomas Wolsey acquired the 14th-century manor at Hampton Court in 1514.” Until King Henry VIII took it away from him, Wolsey was “lord of the manor.”

E-book authors and celebrity watchers seem to be especially prone to write the erroneous “lord of the manner.”

2. mantle/mantel

A mantle is a cloak. The prophet Elijah designated Elisha as his successor by throwing his mantle over him. A mantel is the ornamental shelf above a fireplace on which people display trophies and knickknacks.

3. marshal/Marshall

In modern English, a marshal is an officer of the U.S. Justice Department or a parade leader. In Old English, a marshal was a servant whose job was to tend the horses. The occupation of marshal is reflected in the surname Marshall, but the double-l spelling is only for the proper name.

Marshal also functions as a verb meaning “to arrange or set things in methodical order.” Example: “I’m glad that I wrote my book, because it made me marshal my thoughts.”

4. martial/marital

The error here is one of transposed letters. Martial is pronounced like marshal and means warlike. Marital is pronounced with three syllables (MARE-ih-tul) and means “relating to marriage.”

The error, when it occurs, is always good for a laugh. Example: “New York law also has what is known as constructive abandonment which means one spouse refuses to have martial relations for one or more years.”—Divorce lawyer’s site.

5. meter/metre

Both words are nouns. A meter is a measuring device, such as a gas meter. Metre is a metric unit or a type of rhythm in verse.

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6. metal/mettle/meddle

Metal is a hard, shiny, malleable material used in the manufacture of tools or artifacts. Mettle derives from the same source as metal and was once used in the same way, but now is used only figuratively to mean the quality of a creature’s disposition. A saucepan is made of metal. To really test their mettle, put presidential candidates in crisis.

Note: A mettlesome person or animal is full of spirit. Meddlesome individuals make themselves unpopular by interfering in affairs that do not concern them; they meddle.

7. militate/mitigate

Militate is “to wage war.” Its current use is usually figurative, with the sense of “to weigh against.” Example: “All the facts militate against this policy.”

Mitigate is “to make something less severe.” Example: “Homeowners can mitigate the loss of butterfly habitat by breaking up expanses of grass with forage plants.”

8. morbid/moribund

Morbid means “in a diseased state.” Moribund means “in a dying state.” Both words derive from the Latin word for death and are used literally and figuratively.

9. mordant/trenchant

Both words are applied to language and humor. Mordant comes from a French verb meaning “to bite” and means “bitingly sarcastic.” Trenchant comes from a French verb meaning “to cut.” A “mordant remark” hurts, whereas a “trenchant remark” enlightens.

10. mucous/mucus

Mucus is a noun: “a viscous substance secreted by the mucous cells and glands of animals.” Mucous is an adjective: “of the nature of, resembling, or consisting of mucus.” A mucous gland excretes mucus.

A version of this originally first appeared on DailyWritingTips.

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