Two weeks ago I wrote about five pairs of commonly confused words. It’s a topic that always stimulates a lively and full-bodied discussion among readers. While waiting for that discussion to begin, I’ll present you with five more pairs of commonly confused words.
Advise vs. Advice (ad-VĪZ vs. ad-VĪS)
To advise (an action) is a verb and advice (a thing) is a noun that refers to the information given or received in the act of advising. But confusing these two words is understandable because of another pair of words, vise and vice, which are homonyms: they are pronounced exactly the same (vīs). A vise is a tool attached to a workbench that is used to hold something securely in place. A vice, as people generally use it, is a “habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming.” Advise and advice are not homonyms. They are pronounced differently and mean different things. Many people have given me sound advice about a lot of things in my lifetime, some of which I have heeded. Let me advise you to heed wise, godly advice when you receive it.
Momento vs. Memento
When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common mistake; the correct word is memento. Momento is not a word. At least not in English. It’s understandable why a lot of people (and I do mean a lot of people) get this one wrong. I can think of two reasons: (1) Momento is a Spanish word that means, strangely, moment, and (2) it makes sense that the souvenir from your vacation will help you remember a particular moment–thus a momento, right? Sorry, but no. Again, sadly, momento is not a word in English. Here’s how to keep it straight: a memento is a MEMory aid that helps you reMEMber a person, place, or thing, or comMEMorate something. That should be easy to MEMorize.
Sarcasm vs. Irony
The confusion of these two words is particularly bothersome because it is so widespread and the meanings are, well, so different. I frequently hear someone say that so-and-so was being sarcastic when they should have used the word ironic. Sarcasm is a type of irony, but the two words are not interchangeable. Here’s how one dictionary defines irony: “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.” The adjective ironic “implies an attempt to be amusing or provocative by saying usually the opposite of what is meant.” So when I step outside on a 106-degree Central Valley summer day and say, “Burrr, it’s chilly. Someone get me my jacket!” I’m either (a) insane, (b) sick, (c) using irony, or (d) using sarcasm. (The answer is c. . . . but maybe a.)
Sarcasm, on the other hand, is related to irony, but its emphasis is strongly negative—it is irony’s wicked step-sister. Here’s the definition of sarcasm (which comes from the Greek word meaning “to tear flesh,” subtly hinting of its negative meaning): “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” The adjective form, sarcastic, “implies an intentional inflicting of pain by deriding, taunting, or ridiculing.” I’ve heard a number of people, usually younger people, describe themselves as having a sarcastic brand of humor. It may be true, but I think in most cases, the word they should have used was ironic. Sarcasm can be funny, in the right context and around understanding people, but it’s generally not something to aspire to—unless you can make a killing with it as a comedy writer.
I.e. vs. E.g.
Here’s a pair of abbreviations of Latin terms that are commonly misused in parenthetical expressions. I explained these abbreviations in a previous blog post, but it bears repeating because the confusion of these terms is widespread. They have different meanings, but many writers use them both to mean “for example.” Only e.g., from the Latin exempli gratia, means “for example.” The other one, i.e., from the Latin id est, means “that is.” Here are two basic guidelines for their use: (1) in formal writing, use them mainly in parenthetical statements or in charts or graphs; (2) pay attention to proper formatting, using periods after each letter and followed by a comma: i.e., . . . e.g., . . .
Regardless vs. Irregardless
The word is regardless; irregardless is not a word. Well, strictly speaking, it is a word according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.—a probable blending of irrespective and regardless—but it’s not considered standard usage. Regardless already means “without regard,” so irregardless would have to mean “not without regard,” a peculiar double negative. The word to use 100 of 100 times is regardless, not irregardless. It’s easier to say and one syllable shorter. Make life easier for yourself and others: use regardless.
Bonus word pair: Parentheses vs. Parenthesee
Parentheses is the plural of the singular parenthesis, referring to the curved symbol we place around a parenthetical word or phrase. We almost always use those symbols in pairs, thus the plural parentheses is more common. Parenthesee, as the singular form to refer to just one of those curved things, is incorrect; it’s not a word. The word is parenthesis. (Yes, really!)
Join the discussion. In the comment area, let me know of other commonly confused word pairs. You must have a favorite or two.
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© 2018 by Dean M. Christensen. All rights reserved.