Mixed-up Meanings

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    “Flammable” vs. “Inflammable”

    English is a trickster of a language, evidenced by the fact that two words that appear to be antonyms can actually mean the exact same thing. However, every once in a while we come across a pair of words that it really would be better to not confuse. A fine example of this is flammable and inflammable. Why are these two words so confusing? Well, flammable and …

  2. Grey vs. Gray

    Grey and gray are both accepted in the English language. They refer to a color of a neutral tone between black and white, and can also be used metaphorically to convey gloom and dullness. However, gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK as well as Ireland, Australia, and other places that use British English. For centuries, …

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    Is There A Difference Between A “Symphony,” “Orchestra,” And “Philharmonic”?

    If you want to see some live classical music, you could go to the New York Philharmonic, for instance, or the Chicago Symphony. Are they the same? Are they different? Why is English so confusing? OK, we are going to stop playing the world’s smallest violin and get to the base—er, bass—of it. First, what is an orchestra? An orchestra is “a group of performers on …

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    What’s The Difference Between “Discreet” vs. “Discrete”?

    Ah, another confusing pair of homophones (words that sound alike but are different in meaning). And, we’re not going to be discreet about it: these two can be confusing. So, let’s try to keep them discrete. What does discreet mean? Discreet means “judicious in one’s conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature.” Or, more …

  5. Fiancé vs. Fiancée: Which One Is Which?

    Fiancé and fiancée are different words? If you’ve ever wondered whether it was spelled fiancé or fiancée, well, they’re both correct. They’re both correct because they are actually different terms. English borrowed them from variants of the French verb fiancer (meaning “to get engaged”) in the mid-19th century. The masculine (fiancé) and feminine (fiancée) noun forms were both imported by English speakers, even though English doesn’t typically use gendered word endings. The …

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    Practice vs. Practise

    If you’ve ever wondered why it’s spelled practice in some contexts and practise in others, it mainly comes down to British versus American spelling. In British English, which is also called International English, practise is a verb and practice is a noun. American English tends to avoid practise altogether, using practice as both the noun and verb form. How do you use the noun practice? As a noun, practice means …

  7. Advice vs. Advise

    Why are advice and advise so similar? It’s no wonder that advice and advise are often confused; they are used in similar contexts and are separated by just one letter. But, that letter signals important distinctions to keep in mind when using the terms. So, what are the differences between the two? What are the differences between advise and advice? Advise is a verb meaning “to give counsel to; offer an opinion …

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    “Infamous” vs. “Notorious”: Why Is There A Difference?

    Thanks to clicks, likes, and verified blue checkmarks, a person’s reputation can extend far beyond those who know them personally. For example, it’s widely known that Chris Evans is a real-life Captain America who holds doors open for people, and we all acknowledge that Beyoncé is a goddess among us mere mortals. Some people, though, have a reputation that precedes them in less positive ways. …

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    Blond vs. Blonde: What’s The Difference?

    Grammatical gender* is an unfamiliar concept to some native English speakers. If you’re learning a language like Spanish, for instance, one of the earliest lessons is that some nouns are feminine (la mesa for “the table”) and others masculine (el café for “coffee”). Gendered words are part of many other languages around the world, too, but not so much in English—or are they? Believe it or not, English …

  10. Stationary vs. Stationery

    Stationary and stationery are just one letter off, but that seemingly small difference changes the meaning of these words entirely. These two terms share the Latin root statiōnārius, which derives from the word station meaning “a standing place.” What does stationary mean? Stationary with an a is the older of these two terms, and it means “fixed in one place and not moving,” like a …