Commonly confused sound-alike words: Vol. Q-R

The latest installment in this series about verbal cousins whose meanings, spellings and pronunciations can confound writers and speakers alike.

My cumulative list of “words commonly confused” continues with 10 that begin with the letters Q and R. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning.

1. quote/quotation

Traditionally, quote is a verb and quotation is a noun:

May I quote you on that? (verb)

I used a quotation from Dr. Johnson as an epigraph. (noun)

The Chicago Manual of Style includes a note on these words in the “Good usage versus common usage section,” apparently preferring to preserve the distinction in formal writing.

The CMS note also suggests that a difference may exist in the minds of some writers between quote as a noun and quotation as a noun:

quotes: contemporary remarks usable in their writing.

: wisdom of the ages expressed pithily.

2. quiet/quite

This is a spelling problem for speakers who aren’t in the habit of looking closely at words.

Quiet functions as noun, adjective and verb:

In the old days, librarians insisted on absolute quiet from the patrons. (noun)

Parents often worry when their children are excessively quiet. (adjective)

Susan is known as the quiet sister. (adjective)

Please do something to quiet that barking dog. (verb)

The most common use of quite is as a synonym for the adverb very:

They say that Bill Gates is quite rich. (adverb)

3. reign/rein

The noun reign refers to the period of rule of a monarch. The verb reign means to exercise sovereign power or authority.

The noun rein refers to a strap, usually of leather, that is used to control a horse. The verb rein means to control a horse. Figuratively, rein means to put a restraint on something.

For example, “to rein” or “to rein in” one’s impulses.

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The most common confusion between these words is with the idiom “free rein.” The figurative expression derives from horseback riding. To give a horse “free rein” is to hold the reins loosely and afford the horse a certain amount of free movement.

4. raise/raze

The verb raise has many meanings, but the meaning in contrast to raze is “build up” or “construct”:

The pioneer raised a rudimentary cabin to house his family.

The verb raze means “tear down” or “destroy”:

The historic opera house was razed to make room for a parking deck.

5. real/really

Common in colloquial speech, real is often substituted for the intensifying adverb really. The adjective real means “actually existing, not imaginary.”

This is a real denarius from Roman times.

Used as an intensifier, really means very, or thoroughly.

Casablanca” is a really memorable movie.

6. rebate/refund

A rebate is a discount collectible after a purchase:

I paid $50 for the headphones, but the rebate was $10, so the final cost was $40.

A refund is the full amount of a purchase returned to a customer:

The spaghetti maker didn’t work, so I asked for a refund.

7. regardless/irregardless

The adverb regardless means “without regard to.”

Charles intends to buy a herd of llamas, regardless of my objections.

The soldier tackled the bomber, regardless of his own safety.

Nonstandard irregardless is used by some speakers as either a deliberately humorous portmanteau word or a confused collision of regardless and irrespective. Here’s an earnest use of the word from a community nonprofit agency in New Jersey:

Schools walk a delicate balance. Some schools that have tried to discipline a student for cyberbullying actions that took place off-campus and outside of school hours have been sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student’s free speech right. Irregardless, parents should inform the school if they become aware of any cyberbullying issue.

8. restive/restful

Both are adjectives.

Restive means unsettled, restless:

Speaking softly, Nancy calmed the restive horse.

Restful means “full of rest.” Anything that bestows a feeling of calm and invites relaxation is restful:

Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata: is a restful piece.

9. retch/wretch

The verb retch may be defined as “vomiting or trying to”:

She retched driblets of green bile.

The smell of the Dumpster caused him to retch.

Wretch is a noun. It can mean “a pitiable person” or “a vile person”:

The poor wretch has lost all in the fire.

Anyone who would deliberately profit from another’s illness is a miserable wretch.

10. rise/raise

Used as verbs, rise and raise are often misused.

Rise is intransitive:

Here comes the judge; all rise!

The candidate says those things in the hope that his poll numbers will rise.

Raise is transitive. It takes an object:

Let us raise a toast to departed friends.

Does anyone wish to raise a question?

Aversion of this article originally ran on Daily Writing Tips.

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