One of These Words is Not (Exactly) Like the Other

Anticipate/Expect

The slight difference between
anticipate
and
expect
has to do with whether or not any action is taken.

To

anticipate

something means “to foresee or expect something to happen in the future,
and to perform an action
in preparation for it.” So, if a bunch of martians
anticipate
a bumpy ride to Earth (friendly trip, of course), they’ll build a special force field beforehand to make sure nobody gets UFO-sick.



Expect

means to regard something as likely to happen, but it doesn’t require any action beforehand. “We
expect
a good turnout at the Silly Putty Convention.” No action required, because everyone knows Silly Putty is awesome.

Avenge/Revenge

Both words relate to inflicting harm on someone who has done another person harm . . . but from slightly different perspectives.  

With

a


venge

, the people doing the avenging are doing it on behalf of the victim. “Uncle Herbert
avenged
his toothless nephew by burning the evil hockey puck.”



Revenge

can be a verb, but it’s more common as a noun. Instead of wider social retribution (i.e., Uncle Herbert on behalf of his toothless nephew),
revenge
is about personal retribution, getting even over something done directly to you. “After her brother smacked her with a water balloon in the face, Kelly plotted her
revenge
: glittery slime balls she could throw at her brother.”   

Avert/Avoid



Avert

is used both in the sense of “turning away” from something (“Agh! I’m
averting
my eyes from the naked man on the street!”) and as “preventing” something from happening. But,
avert
is different from
avoid
because averting disaster means “taking some active measure to stop the disaster before it happens.” “Gordon Ramsay didn’t yell at the chef because she
averted
the overflowing pot by lowering the heat just in time.”



Avoid

means “prevent” but is less related to active preventive measures to keep something from happening. It’s more about pulling away from a disastrous situation (that may have already happened). “Gordon Ramsay yelled bloody-effing murder as he and the chef stepped back to
avoid
the boiling soup that splashed out of the pot.”

Bias/Prejudice


Bias
and
prejudice
both relate to subjective judgments about a person, thing, or idea, but one is more negative than the other.

A

bias

can be either favorable or unfavorable. Favorable: “I love chocolate, but Willy Wonka’s my dad so I’m
biased.
” Unfavorable: “The boy’s frequent experience with bullies made him
biased
against all people, even those trying to help.” This second example shows how even a negative
bias
can be created based on reason and experience. 

On the other hand, a

prejudice

is unfavorable, made for no apparent reason, and may be formed with little basis in fact or reality. “A
prejudice
against the entire Muslim population is unfounded.” “Dorkus is
prejudiced
against all brown foods, even chocolate—what the fudge!”

Blush/Flush


B

lush
pertains to a reddening of the face;
flush
is a reddening of other areas of the body (the neck, the chest, etc.). But, there are other distinguishing factors beyond the physical location of the crimson hue.



Blush

typically applies in situations where someone’s face reddens as an emotional response (like being embarrassed, ashamed, or pleased). “When Prince Charming kissed Snow White back to life, she
blushed
redder than the apple that almost killed her.” 



Flush

is used more when the person is feverish, warm from the heat, or energized after physical activity. “He was
flushed
from three hours of kickboxing."”

Childish/Childlike

A child has every right to be

childish

 because they're doing things that kids do. When applied to an adult, however,
childish
is demeaning and likens some quality of the adult to being “weak” or “silly.” A
childish
adult would make fart jokes in work meetings . . . and that’s no longer OK!

On the other hand, it’s weird to call a child

childlike

 because that implies the child is
like
a child but isn’t
actually
a child. However, an adult’s sense of
childlike
wonder is a good thing because that adult has qualities similar to the positivity of childhood: innocence, curiosity,  un
adult
erated joy.

Contempt/Disdain


Contempt
and
disdain
are icky feelings. Both words express disapproval and repugnance over something perceived as vile or worthless. But, each type of disapproval is tinged with a different shade of dislike.



Contempt

is disapproval with disgust: “My grandma is disgusted by all the boobs and butts she sees in the media now. She feels
contempt
for the ‘sex-obsessed society our kids are living in.'” 



Disdain

is a type of disapproval mixed with superiority. With
disdain
, the person or thing that is disapproved of is unworthy of respect or notice. “The selfish businessman shouldered past the homeless person with
disdain
.”

Continual/Continuous

To describe unfolding events,

continual

refers to an event that occurs repeatedly . . . but with breaks in between. “The couple’s
continual
arguments were taking their toll.”  

A

continuous

event is one that proceeds without interruption. “The
continuous
drone of the shopping channel all night made the husband crabby, which is why the couple
continually
argued.”

Don’t worry—people have come to use these words interchangeably and they survived unscathed. Now, if the wife could just shut off the TV, that couple might survive, too!

Convince/Persuade

The traditional difference between
convince
and
persuade
is that the first involves changing minds and the second inspires the action of doing something (beyond just thinking about it).

From the Latin for “conquer” or “overcome,” to
convince
people to agree with a particular perspective requires presenting them with information that will cause them to “conquer” or “overcome” their former beliefs about something: “The measurements
convinced
him that Double Stuf Oreos contain only 1.86 times the ‘Stuf.’”

To
persuade
someone is to go beyond
convincing
them of an idea or opinion; in fact it is to convince them so strongly that they
do
something as a result. “The evidence
persuaded
him to make his own version of Double Stuf Oreos, what he calls
REAL
Dbble Stff Faux-reos.” No copyright infringement, here.

Deceitful/Deceptive

The distinction between these terms lies in
intention
.

A

deceitful

person is someone who has a tendency to deceive or to be dishonest. Objects and animals can’t be
deceitful
because they lack the human intention to lie.

But, a trippy optical illusion is

deceptive

because the eye is deceived or misdirected into thinking something else is going on.

Basically, it’s a matter of focus: intention on the one hand and effect on the other. A
deceitful
adman (who intends to lie) produces a
deceptive
advertisement (with the effect of misrepresenting a product). Like the 1950s Inflatable Wonder Sauna Hot Pants that were supposed to help you shed the pounds. Total deception right there.

Deliberate/Intentional

When speaking about purposeful action (not something that happens by chance),
deliberate
and
intentional
are often used interchangeably, but there are flavors of differences.

A

deliberate

action is taken with full realization of what one is doing. It can carry a negative connotation, especially when used as an adverb: “The brat
deliberately
threw the ball at my head.” “Why are you
deliberately
being such a *%$*#?” 

The word

intentional

is more neutral. “I
intentionally
sang him a happy song.” That’s nice of you. But for whatever reason, if you insert
deliberately
in that sentence, it’d sound like you were trying to annoy/anger the person with sing-song cheeriness.

Disused/Unused

This one’s super easy. An item that was handled or put to use before but isn’t used any more is

disused

. An item that has never been used is

unused

.

“The
unused
paper plates from last year’s family reunion are still taking up space in the kitchen cabinet.”

“Shirley knows she has a bad habit of trying out new shampoos. Her
disused
bottles are everywhere in the bathroom.”

Emulate/Imitate

Both
emulate
and
imitate
signify “copying” to some degree, but
emulation
is purely positive.

To

emulate

means “to try to equal or excel.” “The young amateur
emulated
his golf-pro father on the green.” The word also means “to rival with some degree of success.” “Surprisingly, Patti’s Palms for Pennies 
emulates
the best astrology business in the country.”

To

imitate

someone is “to copy, follow as a model, or mimic.”
Imitate
isn’t necessarily positive: “‘Waaaaah wah waaaah, I never get what I want,’ Brian
imitated
his brother sobbing in the backseat.”

Envy/Jealousy

For most speakers (whether they like it or not), these are used interchangeably. But, there are certain contexts where one can’t substitute for the other.



Envy

is craving someone else’s possessions or advantages. “Sabrina was
envious
of her sister’s good looks.” Most people would say

jealous

could easily sub in here with no damage to the meaning. So, in this case,
envious
and
jealous
are interchangeable.

But, when we look at another important meaning of
jealousy
—"anger at the possibility of romantic infidelity or rivalry"—
envious
can’t substitute. “He was a
jealous
husband.” If the husband were
envious
, he might want his wife’s money . . . or maybe her good looks (and that would be an even trickier problem).

Horrible/Horrific

Hopefully, you don’t need to use these words often. Although they both relate to “horror,” each one carries different connotations.



Horrible

is used to describe something that is disagreeable, gross, or intensely disliked: “The
horrible
smell rising from the garbage bag meant it was time to take out the trash.”
Horrible
is best used to describe everyday unpleasantness, like “a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” . . . you know. 

A

horrific

experience is truly upsetting, overwhelmingly painful, frightening, or revolting. “The slaughter of innocent people is a
horrific
crime.”
Horrific
applies in circumstances of war, violent crime, brutality, and tragedy.

Incapable/Unable


Incapable
and
unable
signify a lack of ability to do something, but they describe “not-ableness” from two points of view.



Incapable

conveys a sense of “inherently lacking” the ability or power to do something. “The two-year-old was
incapable
of comprehending
War and Peace
.” Uh, right. Some of us feel the same way, as adults! Here, the inability is internal to the person, implying that the person can’t do anything to change the incapacity.

The word

unable

is a relaxed version of “not-ableness.” The person is capable of doing the thing,
 
but there’s a temporary block. “She was
unable
to listen to the clown’s life story while he juggled his balls in the air.” “I’m
unable
to read
War and Peace
if the TV’s blasting.”

Incentive/Motive

An

incentive

stimulates someone to perform an action or demonstrate a desired behavior. It’s an external stimulus (like candy): “The promise of a trip to Disney World was Daisy’s
incentive
to quit thrashing and get off the supermarket floor.” Too bad it’s probably an empty promise made by a frazzled, pleading mom.



Motive

, on the other hand, is more aligned with something driven from within. “Daisy’s caring disposition was her
motive
to help Mom get the groceries.” 'Atta girl. You’ll get to Disney World that way.

Infamous/Notorious

Sometimes fame is too hard to handle. It’s already easy for people to confuse
famous
and
infamous
, but even the shadier types of fame have differences.



Infamous

is entirely negative, relating to shamefulness, outrageous or evil actions, and criminal behavior: “The
infamous
Charles Manson died while still in prison.”

On the spectrum of fame,

notorious

is more negative than positive. A notorious person isn’t known for evil or shameful behavior necessarily, they are just kind of famous for no reason (so many of those now, right?) or known for being “up to no good.”

Small tip: Use
notorious
(not
infamous
) if you want to joke around: “She’s a
notorious
blanket-hogger at tailgates.”  

Lonely/Lonesome

Unless prefaced by all, the word

alone

is the most neutral to use for “spending time by oneself.”
Lonely
and
lonesome
introduce emotional components to the colorless state of being alone.



Lonely

conjures a sadness and a sense of loss in isolation. “The house, once full of life, was still. He felt so
lonely
after his wife died.” “She was lonely without her phone in her hand.”



Lonesome

mingles the sadness of loneliness with a yearning for companionship, a longing to fill the void again. “His
lonesome
heart beat with faint hope that love was still possible.” “Her
lonesome
fingers itched to be reunited with her phone again.”

Luxuriant/Luxurious

So often people use
luxuriant
when they mean
luxurious
. Both have “lux” but the
luxury
lies in one, not the other.



Luxuriant

means “abundant or lush in growth.” A
luxuriant
shampoo doesn’t make sense. Put it this way: “Try our new “lush-in-growth” shampoo!” The shampoo itself isn’t “full of growth,” right? But, if it works, it’ll produce
luxuriant
, thick, healthy hair like in the commercials.

A
luxurious
shampoo makes complete sense. The lather is

luxurious

if it’s expensive, pleasurable, or indulgent to the senses.

Luxury

—”delicacy, enjoyment, self-indulgence”—rests solely in
luxurious
.

Perverse/Perverted

“He took a
perverse
interest in disagreeing with his boss.” Don't worry, this has nothing to do with a bizarre sexual fetish!



Perverse

means “cantankerous,” “obstinate,” or “willfully determined to go counter to what is expected or desired.” Someone with a
perverse
disposition is just a stubborn old mule (no offense to mules).  

If the guy above took a

perverted

interest in disagreeing with his boss, then human resources needs to step in. This dude’s getting weird pleasure from arguing with higher-ups.

Sensual/Sensuous

Even though these words are casually interchangeable, careful communicators should know
sensual
and
sensuous
have very different meanings.



Sensual

has the “carnal,” “of-the-flesh” meaning people know today. It sometimes carries unfavorable undertones because the word is all about pleasures obtained through indulgence. “The
sensual
movement of her hips as she walked drove him wild.” “Their
sensual
appetites were sated as they ate the plate of oysters.” 

Because
sensual
is just too raunchy, the poet John Milton coined

s


ensuous


. Sensuous
has a favorable air and means “literally pertaining to the senses.” “The
sensuous
art film was so vibrant, it was like watching a Monet in motion.” (A sensuous film is
not
porn!)

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