By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated, November 14, 2013)
Abstruse: (adjective) obscure, difficult to understand
Jenna-Mae Lumpkin developed an abstruse thesis about the subversive post-apocalyptic and post-modern cultural appropriation symbolism of Gilligan’s Island.
Obtuse: (adjective) dull-witted, lacking understanding
Jenna’s obtuse classmates failed to understand her brilliant theories.
Accept: (verb) agree with something or take something
Optimus Prime accepted a lovely bouquet of roses from Spongebob Squarepants.
Tinky Winky accepted Bohm’s holographic universe theory.
Except: (verb) leave something out or exclude it; (preposition) excluding, other than
The discount pet health plan excepted certain services, including dog whispering and feline self-esteem workshops.
Buffy invited all the monsters to her birthday party except the vampires.
Adverse: (adjective) harmful, unfavourable, acting in opposition
Shaking hands with a lobster can have adverse consequences.
Averse: (adjective) having a feeling of distaste, opposition, or aversion; strongly disinclined
A staunch vegetarian, Arvid was averse to eating anything that had previously had a face.
Advice: (noun) a recommendation about what to do
Sir Ichabod Squidworthy ignored Lord Daftwager’s advice about not betting on the 2014 lizard races in Australia.
Advise: (verb) to make a recommendation about what to do
Lord Daftwager advised Squidworthy to save his money so that they could take a nice holiday together, but Squidworthy was determined to bet it all on a lizard named Sneaky Pete.
These are just alternate spellings of the same word. Either iscorrect when used to mean one who gives advice (typically an expert in a particular field), though some style guides demand the use of one spelling or the other.
Affect: (verb) influence, change, or imitate something (i.e., accents, styles of dress); (noun) emotion expressed in body language and facial expression (a flat affect is a lack of apparent emotion and emotional reactivity)
Nermal negatively affected everyone’s mood at the party by shouting abuse and hitting guests with a dead salmon.
Gena affected a British accent in order to appear more intelligent.
His affect was flat after watching the 12-hour Andy Griffith marathon on television.
Effect: (noun) the result of an agent or cause, an image or sound used to imitate something real (such as an explosion) or to generate excitement (for example, strobe lighting); (verb) cause to occur
Waldo’s poems about lampposts usually had the effect of putting people to sleep, but Marlene found them enthralling.
The team used special effects to simulate the experience of watching a beautiful sunset with a pack of flatulent dogs.
When Morbo took over the sales team, he effected a number of changes, the first of which was to replace the sales team with stuffed sheep dressed as pirates.
Aggravate: (verb) worsen or make something more serious
Marta’s attempts to play Smoke on the Water on her accordion aggravated Bertha’s headache.
Irritate: (verb) annoy or inflame
Bertha’s assertion that bagpipes are superior to accordions irritated Marta.
Aggravate is used informally to mean annoy as well, but it shouldn’t be used this way in formal writing.
Aid: (noun) assistance, help; (verb) provide assistance, help
Velda aided Mindy by duct taping the doomsday device to the roof of her Smart Car.
Aide: (noun) helper
One of the classroom aides had to take over after the teacher accidentally inhaled a piece of chalk.
Aisle: (noun) a passage between rows of seats
Han Solo and Chewbacca walked up and down the aisles trying to find good seats for the ballet.
Isle: (noun) an island (typically a small one)
Stranded on a desert isle, Cruella de Vil and Scooby Doo had to put aside their differences and work together to survive.
Allude: (verb) refer to something indirectly
Randall McTigger alluded to Moby Dick in his novel, A Whale for Wanda, but never mentioned the classic work directly.
Elude: (verb) avoid capture or discovery
Quilla eluded her pursuers by hiding among the cows and mooing occasionally.
The main difference between these two words is directness: Allude is a verb that means to hint at (in other words, suggest something indirectly or covertly), while refer means to mention something directly.
Brandine alluded to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in her angry letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but referred directly to Homer’s The Odyssey in her rant to the Mayor about the city’s hamster shortage.
Aloud: (adjective) out loud
She read her 360-page “Charles in Charge” fan fiction aloud to the dismay of everyone at the party.
Allowed: (verb) permitted
Twerking and other forms of suggestive dance were no longer allowed on the jobsite due to complaints about naked construction workers behaving inappropriately around wrecking balls.
Altar: (noun) a sacred church table
Everyone was appalled when Jerry spread out his picnic lunch on the altar during the church service.
Alter: (verb) to change something
The snickering teenagers altered the sign, removing the ‘l’ from ‘public’.
Alternate: (noun) a substitution, (verb) substitute something for something else or take turns, (adjective) substitute
They had to choose an alternate for their pie eating contest team because Roddy had stopped at an all-you-can eat steakhouse on his way to the event.
During her outburst at the dance contest, Jemma alternated between stomping her feet with rage and throwing fistfuls of salsa at the cowering judges until security guards came to escort her from the building.
They chose an alternate route to the store because the road they usually took was teeming with angry raccoons.
Alternative: (noun) one thing or idea that can be chosen among multiple; (adjective) selectable from among multiple things, unusual, nontraditional
Nero had to choose among three alternatives: a monkey butler, a dancing llama, and a pit bull in a little tuxedo.
Vladamir, who painted with ketchup and mustard and sculpted with mashed potatoes, was a leader in the alternative arts scene.
Amoral: (adjective) unconcerned about right and wrong (refers to a personality trait or state of being)
The amoral woman broke into people’s homes on Christmas Eve, stealing their Christmas trees and replacing them with velvet paintings of Mr. T riding various dinosaurs.
Immoral : (adjective) going against moral standards (refers to the way in which the individual interacts with the world)
Stealing Christmas trees is immoral, and velvet paintings are in poor taste, but Mr. T riding a brontosaurus is fabulous.
Apprise: (verb) inform
Prometheus apprised Gary of the fact that his TV was on fire.
Appraise: (verb) size up or evaluate quality or value
Janet appraised Karl’s plastic figurine of Glenn Beck waltzing with Karl Rove, judging it to be worthless.
Assent: (noun) approval or agreement, (verb) to approve or agree
Jasmine assented to the dog groomer’s plan to dye her poodle’s fur purple but refused the option of puce highlights.
Ascent: (noun) the action of climbing or rising upward
Jack and Jill’s ascent up the hill was slow and plodding, but their descent was much faster.
Assume: (verb) suppose, without proof
Wendell Wackmeister assumed that Genaviva McTwee would accompany him to the barn dance, but she went with Barnaby Thwacktoaster instead.
Presume: (verb) believe something based on probability
The hiker had been missing for a week and was presumed dead, but it turned out that she had faked her death to get out of cleaning the bathroom.
Assure: (verb) remove doubt, make certain, give confidence, reassure, promise
Evan assured Sally that her flying squirrels would be safe with him.
Ensure: (verb) make certain, sure, or safe
Warren ensured that everyone had a porcupine and a flute before the porcupine charming class began.
Insure: (verb) arrange compensation in the case of death, injury, or property damage, usually by purchasing insurance
Because his last electric hammer had met with an unfortunate accident, Mr. Clunkington insured the new one so that he could recover the costs in case of further mishaps.
Aural: (adjective) related to the ears or hearing
Unsurprisingly, elephants have greater aural capabilities than people do.
Oral: (adjective) related to the mouth or speech
The teacher was bewildered by Jenda’s oral report on the history of grommets because it was delivered during a gym class and the homework assignment had been to jump up and down 124 times.
Verbal: (adjective) in the form of words or related to words; can denote written or spoken words
Bella Quagmire didn’t believe in saying things verbally when she could convey them more effectively through interpretive dance.
Aver: (verb) affirm, declare to be true
Jonathan Bletherington averred that because toast always lands butter-side down and a cat always lands on its feet, a piece of buttered toast strapped to the back of a falling cat will spin forever.
Avert: (verb) ward off, prevent, or turn away
Ayla averted disaster by putting the toddlers and the porcupines in separate rooms.
Avoid: (verb) keep away from or shun
Bogwoppit avoided Lord Blackadder after Blackadder stole his favourite melon baller.
- Casagrande, J. (2006). Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language tor Fun and Spite. Penguin, New York.
- Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. (2004). 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses & Misuses. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Company.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2013). Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Merrriam-Webster.com.
- O’Conner, P. T. (1996). Woe Is I, the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (2013). Oxford University Press. OALD8.OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com.