Clarity is key when it comes to writing, and word choice plays an essential role in getting your point across. Words are powerful tools and when used correctly, they are all you need to make the audience understand your message. However, words can be hazardous weapons at times – using the wrong words can lead the readers astray, leaving them bemused, or turning them off completely.
Here are some more commonly confused pairs of words that you may find it is time to clear up any confusion.
You can (re)visit Part 1 of this series here.
- Principal vs. principle
- The principle will attend the ceremony tomorrow.
- The principal will attend the ceremony tomorrow.
Explanation: ‘Principal’, as an adjective, means ‘important’, ‘primary’, or ‘first in order of importance’, while as a noun, it refers to ‘the head of a school.’ In finance, ‘principal’ means ‘the amount of money lent or borrowed, rather than the interest paid on it.’ Conversely, ‘principle’ only functions as a noun which means ‘a fundamental law or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works.’
The principal aim of this meeting is to reach an agreement on our pending issues.
The principal of the school is retiring this year.
If you don’t pay the principal on time, you might get behind on your payments.
The organization works on the principle that all members have the same rights.
- Premiere vs. premier
- She is one of the UK’s premiere historians.
- She is one of the UK’s premier historians.
Explanation: ‘Premiere’ (noun) is ‘the first public performance of a play, movie, or any other type of entertainment,’ and as a verb the word conveys a similar meaning. Meanwhile, ‘premier’ refers to ‘the best or most important’. ‘Premier’ can also function as a noun, though less common, which describes a person who is first in rank, or a leader of the government.
The world premiere of the opera will be at the Sydney Opera House.
The play will premiere this weekend.
It’s one of the country’s premier holiday destinations.
The premier of Ontario will resign next month.
- Ensure vs. insure
- The house is ensured for two million dollars.
- The house is insured for two million dollars.
Explanation: While ‘ensure’ means ‘make something certain to happen’ or ‘guarantee’, ‘insure’ refers to providing insurance for someone or something.
The airline is taking steps to ensure safety on its aircraft.
Officials will ensure that the election is carried out fairly.
All our household appliances are insured against accidental damage.
They refused to insure us because they said we are too old.
- Besides vs. beside
- He sat besides me in the front seat.
- He sat beside me in the front seat.
Explanation: When ‘besides’ plays a role of a linking adverb, it can stand alone; however, when it acts as a preposition, it should be followed by a noun or noun phrase. But either way, there is almost no difference in the meaning it describes which is ‘also’ or ‘in addition to.’ Meanwhile, if you want to convey the meaning of ‘alongside’ or ‘next to,’, use ‘beside’ which functions as a preposition only.
He won’t mind if you’re late. Besides, it’s not your fault.
Do you play any other sports besides basketball?
The new school is built right beside the river.
She knelt down beside the child.
- Stationery vs. stationary
- House prices have been stationery for months.
- House prices have been stationary for months.
Explanation: These two words are pronounced in the same way but bear no relation to each other. ‘Stationery’ is always a noun which typically refers to the writing tools and office supplies. ‘Stationary’, on the other hand, is an adjective that means ‘motionless’ (not moving/ changing) or ‘still.’ A tip to remember: the letter ‘a’ in the word ‘stationary’ stands for adjective.
When I started my new job, my desk had a full set of stationery.
The company realized it was spending too much on stationery.
The rate of inflation has been stationary since the beginning of this year.
The traffic got slower and slower until it was stationary.
- Dessert vs. desert
- We had to cross a large area of arid dessert to escape.
- We had to cross a large area of arid desert to escape.
Explanation: ‘Dessert’ is a noun whose stress is always on the second syllable; it refers to ‘sweet food eaten at the end of a meal.’ Meanwhile, ‘desert’ can be either a noun (stress falling on the first syllable) – an area where there is very little rain and not many plants, or a verb (stress on second syllable as in ‘dessert’) that means ‘run away’ or ‘leave behind.’ A tip to remember: ‘dessert’ has double ‘s’ because it is so sweet.
If you prepare the main course, I’ll make a dessert.
Would you like panna cotta for dessert?
They were lost in the desert for two weeks.
He deserted his wife and family for another woman.
Online Cambridge Dictionary: https://dictionary.cambridge.org
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