Commonly confused sound-alike words: Vol. T

Do you know the difference between ‘tortuous’ and ‘torturous’? Have you ever mistaken ‘tenet’ for ‘tenant’? It’s time to get these and other homonyms straight.

My cumulative list of commonly confused words continues with 10 that begin with the letter T. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning.

1. taught/taut

Taught is the past tense of teach. It is also used as an adjective to mean instructed.

Example: “Howard Phillips Lovecraft, weird fiction writer and primogenitor of modern horror fiction, was a self-taught writer.”

Taut means “pulled tight.”

A common error is to spell taut as taught, as in this fishing advice in Backpacker magazine:

Incorrect: Use more weight to keep the line taught.

Correct: Use more weight to keep the line taut.

2. titivate/titillate

Titivate means “to spruce up, to make more attractive.”

Example: We decided to titivate the kitchen with new cabinets and countertops.

Titillate means “to excite the senses or imagination in an agreeable way.”

Example: Camilla Ochlan has crafted a supernatural mystery-thriller that will titillate the palate of even the most discriminating sci-fi reader.

The error is to mix them up, as in this example from a restaurant site:

Incorrect: We are sure to have something to titivate your taste buds.

Correct: We are sure to have something to titillate your taste buds.

3. tortuous/torturous

Tortuous means “full of twists; complex.”

Example: The tortuous road had one steep and narrow curve after another all the way to the top.

Torturous derives from torture and means “full of pain or suffering.”

Example: The book prominently features a scene in which the heroes resort to torturous means to extract vital information.

The error is to mix them up, although some might argue that a thing can be full of twists and pain at the same time.

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4. tenant/tenet

A tenant is someone who rents property.

Example: The tenant always paid her rent on time.

A tenet is a principle or belief.

Example: The tenet to love one’s neighbor is stated in Leviticus 19:18.

The error with these words goes both ways:

Incorrect: This course is designed to give the students an overview of the basic tenants of Christian Doctrine.

Correct: This course is designed to give the students an overview of the basic tenets of Christian Doctrine.

Incorrect: Most important, stay informed about your rights as a tenet.

Correct: Most important, stay informed about your rights as a tenant.

5. than/then

Than is a conjunction used after a comparative adjective or adverb to introduce the second member of the comparison.

Example: She thinks her border collie is smarter than my boxer.

The word then is an adverb that refers to a specified time, past or future, as opposed to the present.

Example: We didn’t have enough money for luxuries such as books then.

6. through/threw

Through is a preposition used to convey the idea of entering the inside of something and coming out the other side.

Example: They always go through the churchyard on their way home.

Threw is the past tense of to throw.

Example: He threw the ball over the fence.

The usual error is to spell through as threw, as in this example from a geocaching site:

Incorrect: You will need to go threw the tunnel to access this cache.

Correct: You will need to go through the tunnel to access this cache.

7. throws/throes

Throws is the third person present singular of the verb to throw.

Example: He throws with his left arm.

Throws can also be the plural of the noun throw that refers to a light blanket.

Example: She keeps throws on all the couches and chairs.

Throes is a noun that means “severe pains.” Figuratively, it can mean “difficult times.”

Example: The pirate lay in the last throes of death. The Smiths are in the throes of divorce.

8. track/tract

A track is a mark or series of marks left by the passage of something.

Example: The Mountie caught the fugitive by following the track left in the snow.

One meaning of tract is “a book or written work treating of some particular topic.”

Example: The evangelists passed out tracts on the subject of salvation.

9. till/’til

Till has several functions. As a noun, it usually means a cash drawer.

Example: The cashier was fired after she was caught skimming from the till.

As a verb, to till means to work the soil, as in farming.

The form ’til is an unnecessary shortening of until.

As a conjunction, till is often used in place of until.

10. torpid/turgid

Torpid means “benumbed” or “devoid of the power or motion of feeling.”

Example: Even when he was awake he was completely torpid.

Turgid means “swollen, distended, puffed out.” It’s applied figuratively to language with the meanings “inflated, pompous, bombastic.”

Example: My arm was turgid where the snake had bitten it.

Example: Eventually, the movie surrenders to the most turgid Hollywood speechifying and sentimentality, far more so than the original.

A version of this article originally appeared on Daily Writing Tips.

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