Notorious Confusables: Part II

Guide to Grammar and Writing

The notorious
Butch Cassidy
and the
Sundance Kid

Notorious Confusables: Part One ("ability/capacity" through "indeterminable/indeterminate")

  1. The witness was asked to indite the reasons he thought the grand jury should indict his boss for extortion.
  2. The truck was mistakenly marked INFLAMMABLE so the firefighters thought the noninflammable material was dangerously flammable. ("Flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing!)
  3. The tyrant inflicted great hardship on the people. They felt afflicted with his harsh regime.
  4. Her naive and ingenuous mother expressed amazement that her daughter could create such an ingenious demonstration for the science fair.
  5. The insidious nature of her argument suggests an invidious comparison.
  6. There were, for instance, several instances in which the latch failed and the door floor open, just at the the most dangerous instant. [There is rarely an occasion to use the plural of instant, which would be instants.]
  7. In the intense heat, the team of scientists did an intensive study of the extensive crop damage.
  8. The scientists were intensely focused on the problem. They studied it intently for months.
  9. Its and it's — See above
  10. Jibe and jive — See gibe
  11. His income soared during the past three years [not "last"]. Jonathan Swift's last novel was Gulliver's Travels. Toni Morrison's most recent novel was Paradise [but not her "last," we hope].
  12. She made a laudatory speech concerning the students' laudable accomplishments.
  13. Lawyer — see attorney
  14. She lays it down, laid it down, has laid it down, is laying it down. (The verb to lay takes an object; to lie doesn't.)
  15. She lies down, lay down, has lain down, is lying down
    personpresentpastperfect formparticiple form
    firstI lie
    in bed
    I lay
    in bed
    I have lain
    in bed
    I am lying
    in bed
    thirdshe lies
    in bed
    she lay
    in bed
    she has lain
    in bed
    she is lying
    in bed
    firstI lay
    it down
    I laid
    it down
    I have laid
    it down
    I am laying
    it down
    thirdshe lays
    it down
    she laid
    it down
    she has laid
    it down
    she is laying
    it down

  16. As he led his soldiers into battle, his feet seemed made of lead.
  17. Liable and Likely — see apt
  18. The lightning striking all around them, the sailors proceeded in their task of lightening the cargo. ["Lightning" can also serve as a verb: It was lightning outside. It lightninged all afternoon.
  19. She is tall like her mother. She is not as tall as her father, though. [Generally, use as to introduce a clause (as her father is tall). This distinction is not as important as some people think.]
  20. Literally — see figuratively
  21. I am loath to associate with people who loathe me.
  22. My shoes are so loose that I'm going to lose them.
  23. I hope the bank can arrange a loan for me. If not, I hope my sister can lend me some money.
  24. A luxuriant tropical garden was planted on the grounds of the most luxurious hotel in town.
  25. It has been raining way too much and for too many days.
  26. Juan and Maria thought that studying the martial arts, like judo, would improve their marital relationship.
  27. May — see the definition of modal auxiliaries for help with might and may.
  28. He hardly deserves a medal (made out of any kind of metal), nor did he show true mettle when he tried to meddle in our affairs.
  29. The moral of this story is that the morale of a military unit is extremely important.
  30. In the moribund condition of her government, the empress gave way to morbid reflections on her death.
  31. My great-great-grandfather, a naval officer in the Civil War, was killed when he was struck in the navel by a cannonball.
  32. Now that you know that no one is at home, walk right in.
  33. He made an oral commitment to speak on the biological, aural aspects of listening. He has extraordinary verbal skills. [Many writers insist on a distinction between oral (by mouth) and verbal (having to do with words, written).]
  34. A palette is that thumb-held device that painters use to mix their colors on. The palate is the roof of your mouth or the sense of taste. And a pallet is either a hard, narrow bed or a device to carry things on.
  35. Whatever has passed us by is now in the past.
    Huey, Dewey, and Louie!
    Even Donald couldn't tell them apart.

  36. The two lawyers walked around the perimeter of the estate as they discussed the parameters of the case.
  37. You must have patience in dealing with the patients in this clinic.
  38. The period of peace between the two wars is an interesting piece of history.
  39. They climbed to the mountain peak to take a peek at the sunrise. They left in a pique because other climbers were already there.
  40. The peasant was surprised when the king served him pheasant for dinner.
  41. He peddled his baskets of flower petals as he pedaled his bike around town.
  42. We use the word percent as part of a numerical expression (e.g., Only two percent of the students failed.). We use the word percentage to suggest a portion (e.g., The percentage of students who fail has decreased.).
  43. To carry out or prosecute one's legal responsibilities is a fine thing; to persecute a fellow citizen is not.
  44. The personnel office had a great deal of personal information in its files.
  45. He was poring over his books when he accidently poured coffee all over his papers.
  46. The new lab seemed practical enough, but building it was hardly practicable in that tiny building.
  47. In the 1950s, pro basketball was predominantly a game won predominately by teams on the east coast.
  48. The high school principal said today that the principal problem with today's youth is their lack of moral principles
  49. The hyenas seem to pray over their prey before devouring it.
  50. The lawyer's memory of precedents seemed to take precedence over his memory of other matters.
  51. The premier of the new nation was thrilled when he was allowed to attend the film's premiere.
  52. Presently — see currently
  53. We will now proceed to the part that should precede the ending.
  54. Jeremiah would prophesy whenever he felt the people needed to hear a prophecy. [N.B. There is no such word as prophesize.]
  55. He collapsed forward, prostrate on the floor, when he heard that he had cancer of the prostate gland.
  56. The troops moved purposefully toward their doom, relying on the false information their leaders had purposely given them.
  57. We'll have to be quite quiet. Quit making noise!
  58. She often quoted Shakespeare, using quotations [not quotes] when it sometimes seemed quite inappropriate.
  59. They studied racist attitudes in the new course on racial studies.
  60. Rack — see wrack
  61. He threw his tennis racquet across the court and his fans started making a terrific racket. The mafia was running several rackets
    in Chicago at the time. [Racquet can also be spelled racket.]
  62. During the reign of Charles I, it was against the law to use a leather rein during the rain.

    Another pair of notorious confusables, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
    Actually, that's Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, who starred in
    that film (based on Tom Stoppard's play)
    and went on to even greater success in cinema.

  63. Yesterday she read from the red book instead of the blue one.
  64. These sociologists made a really important contribution to our understanding of some real problems in urban America.
  65. He knew that he would grow to resent the public's interest in his recent escapades.
  66. The actors bowed respectfully to the royal couple and then to the people in the audience and to their friends backstage, respectively.
  67. We wept with joy as we read the famous critic's review of our new musical revue.
  68. He had no right to write a new rite for the church.
  69. Grandpa rises slowly from the couch. He raises pigs. [Incidentally, we do not "raise" children; we REAR children -- unless they grow up like animals, in which case we can say we have "raised" them.]
    personpresentpastperfect formparticiple form
    firstI rise
    from the couch
    I rose
    from the couch
    I have risen
    from the couch
    I am rising
    from the couch
    thirdshe rises
    from the couch
    she rose
    from the couch
    she has risen
    from the couch
    she is rising
    from the couch
    firstI raise
    I raised
    I have raised
    I am raising
    thirdshe raises
    she raised
    she has raised
    she is raising

  70. These sociologists made a really important contribution to our understanding of some real real problems in urban America.
  71. The attorney was reluctant to force her reticent witness to testify.
  72. In his role as an absent-minded professor, Janina Delbartico called the roll of the wrong class.
  73. The mayor's involvement in salacious behavior has certainly not been salutary for his health or the health of the community.
  74. We have seen the last scene of this play before.
  75. He doesn't seem to have much sense since he fell on his head.
  76. Her poetry is quite sensuous. In fact, some people find it quite sensual.
  77. Set it down here. The computer was sitting here a minute ago. (To set takes an object. Remember, objects can sit.)
  78. The moon shone brightly over the old theater where movies were shown nightly. [Shined is an acceptable substitute for shone.]
  79. His explanations were simple but not to the point of being simplistic.
  80. She chose this site because of its view. The sight of the old house brought tears to her eyes. She would cite the passage from Genesis.
  81. The old man would often complain about money and scrimp, but he would never skimp when it came to his own clothing.
  82. The stationery department, where they sell envelopes and writing paper, is in a stationary place.
  83. There is a town statute making it against the law for people of small stature to climb on the park's statue of the mayor.
  84. When you swallow, food goes to your stomach. He was punched in the abdomen.
  85. Sympathy — see empathy
  86. Take that horrible thing away. Bring me some aspirin.
  87. The highly touted critic would taunt his taut-lipped brother whenever he thought he had taught him a lesson.
  88. I'm taller than my father. Let's eat first; then we'll go to the movies.
  89. The bridge that spans the Connecticut River, which flows into Long Island Sound, is falling down.
    The word which can be used to introduce both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, although many writers use it exclusively to introduce nonrestrictive clauses; the word that can be used to introduce only restrictive clauses. Think of the difference between
    • "The garage that my uncle built is falling down."
    • "The garage, which my uncle built, is falling down."
    I can say the first sentence anywhere and the listener will know exactly which garage I'm talking about — the one my uncle built. The second sentence, however, I would have to utter, say, in my back yard, while I'm pointing to the dilapidated garage. In other words, the "that clause" has introduced information that you need or you wouldn't know what garage I'm talking about (so you don't need/can't have commas); the "which clause" has introduced nonessential, "added" information (so you do need the commas).

    We recommend Michael Quinion's article on the usage of which and that in his World Wide Words.

    Incidentally, some writers insist that the word that cannot be used to refer to people, but in situations where the people are not specifically named, it is permissible.

      The students that study most usually do the best.
    (But we would write "The Darling children, who have enrolled in the Lab School, are doing well.")

  90. They're driving their new car over there this afternoon.
  91. He threw a baseball right through the neighbor's front window. The neighbor made a thorough report to the police. [The word thru is not standard English.]
  92. In two hours, it's going to be too hot to go to town.
  93. They endured a torturous journey up the long and tortuous tributary of the Amazon.
  94. That trooper was a real trouper.
  95. The politician's speech managed to be both turgid and turbid at the same time.
  96. It seemed so utterly unconscionable that the elderly couple should be robbed while they were unconscious.
  97. Although the former mayor's career was unexceptionable, his personality was so bland that he was regarded as an unexceptional candidate for congress.
  98. Verbal — see oral
  99. Is being venal listed among the venial sins?
  100. His waist continued to grow and grow, but no food was allowed to waste in his house!
    Both verbs have approximately the same meaning — to rise or rouse from sleep — and can have both transitive (I woke up the dog.) and intransitive (I am waking up.) meanings. "Awaken" is a bit more formal (some would say stuffy). "To wake" is nearly always a phrasal verb, accompanied by "up," except in the sense of keeping watch near a corpse before burial.
    The passive forms of these verbs are the same as the passive forms of to speak. We would say "Angry words have been spoken," and we would say "The children have been woken/awoken/woken up by the thunder."
    personpresentpastperfect formparticiple form
    firstI wake up/
    I woke up/
    I have woken up/
    have woken/have awoken
    I am waking up/
    am awaking/am awakening
    thirdhe wakes up/
    he woke up/
    he has woken up/
    has woken/has awoken
    he is waking up/
    is awaking/is awakening

  101. I used to wonder how he could just wander around the city like that.
  102. Well — see good
  103. Where were you? We're over here.
  104. I don't know whether we'll go or not. I think it depends on the weather.
  105. Which — see that
  106. She ate the whole donut, hole and all.
  107. Whose book is that? Who's there? [Works like his and he's]
  108. Visiting the reeking wrack and ruin of an old shipyard, we racked our brains trying to remember the author of "The Wreck of the Hesperus," which tells how an iceberg wreaked havoc on a ship.
  109. You're doing your own homework, I hope.
    When Dolly, the cloned lamb,
    grows up, she and her Mum
    will surely be the most confusable
    animals in the world.

Quiz on the Notorious Confusables

Second Quiz on the Notorious Confusables

Third Quiz on the Notorious Confusables

Fourth Quiz on the Notorious Confusables

Fifth Quiz on the Notorious Confusables

Special Quiz on Its/It's and There/Their/They're

Special Quiz on Lie/Lay and Sit/Set

Special Quiz on Except/Accept and Affect/Effect