Even articulate speakers—folks with a college education—confuse the following words on occasion. How many of the following would you get right on a test?
- Affect = To change or make a difference to
Effect = A result; to bring about a result
- Amoral = Not concerned with right or wrong
Immoral = Not following accepted moral standards
- Bated = In great suspense (“with bated breath”)
Baited = With bait attached or inserted
- Born = Having started life
Borne = Carried
- Bough = Branch of a tree
Bow = To bend the head; front of a ship
- Breach = To break through; break a rule; a gap in something
Breech = Back part of a gun barrel; a person’s buttocks
- Canvas = Type of strong cloth
Canvass = To survey people’s opinions
- Censure = To criticize strongly
Censor = To ban parts of a communication; a person who does this
- Chord = Group of musical notes
Cord = Length of string; cord-like body part
- Climactic = Forming a climax
Climatic = Relating to climate
- Discreet = Careful not to attract attention
Discrete = Separate and distinct
- Disinterested = Impartial
Uninterested = Not interested
- Ensure = To make certain that something will happen
Insure = To provide compensation for death or property damage
- Pour = To flow or cause to flow
Pore = Tiny opening; to study something closely
- Practice = The use of an idea or method; the business of a doctor, dentist, etc.
Practise = To do something repeatedly to gain skill
- Principal = Most important; the head of a school
Principle = Fundamental rule or belief
- Stationary = Not moving
Stationery = Writing materials
- Storey = Level of a building
Story = Tale or account
- Tortuous = Full of twists, complex
Torturous = Full of pain or suffering
- Wreath = A ring-shaped arrangement of flowers, etc.
Wreathe = To surround or encircle
Here are examples of the correct use:
- I was affected by his speech.
The audience felt the same effect.
- He had an amoral attitude toward sex.
His promiscuity was immoral.
- We awaited his response with bated breath.
We had baited him with a generous offer.
- I was born on February 13, 1932.
I was borne in my mother’s arms to the waiting car.
- A bough snapped off the tree.
I bowed down so it wouldn’t hit me.
- She threatened to sue for breach of promise.
Her baby was a breech birth.
- The sails were made of canvas.
We canvassed the crew for their preferences.
- The crime drew public censure.
The prisoner’s letters were censored.
- He played a resounding G chord.
The cord on his black gown came undone.
- The climactic scene occurred in the film’s last scene.
It played on the theme of climate change.
- She told her secret in a discreet whisper.
There were two discrete parts to it.
- It’s important for a judge to be disinterested in the financial outcome.
But she should not be uninterested in the testimony.
- They tried to ensure a happy outcome.
They were relieved that they had insured their car.
- She poured cream into her tea.
While she pored over the newspaper, she drank her tea.
- His dental practice was growing fast.
He had practised installing crowns.
- Our school is getting a new principal.
Her main principle is improving students’ FCAT scores.
- The bulldozer remained in a stationery position.
The operator was writing a letter on his personal stationary.
- Her apartment is on the eighth storey.
She has many stories about parties held there.
- The correct path through the maze was tortuous.
The pain she endured after a fall was torturous.
- They hung a wreath on their front door.
It made their faces wreathe in smiles.
If you score 18-20, you’re exceptional; 16-17, above average; 14-15, average; below 14, take a grammar class!