Frequently Confused Words: C-E

Callous/Callus

Callous: (adjective) cruel and insensitive

Minnie showed a callous disregard for Sylvester, complaining that he would make them late as he struggled to free himself from the grand piano that had fallen on him.

Callus: (adjective) a bit of skin that has become thickened and hardened, usually due to friction

Jiminy developed a callus on his hand from petting Milly’s armadillo.

Canvas/Canvass

Canvas: (noun) a type of rough, strong cloth, typically used to make tents, boat sails, and bags

The bag that Andy used to smuggle lobsters over the border was made from canvas.

Canvass: (verb) talk to people in the area to seek their votes for a particular political candidate or to get support for an idea or project.

Elmer Wignickle went door to door, canvassing to raise support for his campaign to secure voting rights for hedgehogs.

Capital/Capitol

Capital: (noun) city or town with an official seat of government within a given political entity (e.g., nation or state); (noun) city that is an activity hub or center; (noun) money, property, or other resources; (noun) net worth of a business; (adjective) excellent, first-rate; (adjective) punishable by death (e.g.., capital offense); (adjective) involving the use of wealth for investment

Craptown was the state’s capital.

They needed to raise capital to start their warthog grooming business.

Because he had committed a capital offence, John Doe was sentenced to die by hanging, but his punishment was subsequently reduced to watching every episode of Jersey Shore (John’s pleas to have his original sentence reinstated were rejected by the judge due to the heinousness of his crimes).

Capitol: (noun) building or complex where state legislature/U.S. Congress meets

The legislators met at the capitol to discuss the new anti-YOLO legislation.

Censor/Censure

Censor: (verb) to ban or remove something, usually parts of a movie, television show, book, or letter;  (noun) the person who censors things

He censored all references to Lord Squiggleby’s unfortunate proclivities before forwarding Lady Millipede’s e-mail to the Duchess of Squawkton.

Censure: (verb) strongly criticize, often in an official capacity

Lord Squiggleby was censured when his unfortunate proclivities became public knowledge during the filming of the new MTV reality show, “Who Wants to Marry a Squiggleby?”

Cereal/Serial

Cereal: (noun) an edible grass grain (often refers  to products made from such grains)

Darth Vader would only eat cereals that included colourful marshmallows.

Serial: (adjective) occurring or arranged in a series

He was a serial offender at the local pet shops, stealing a hamster from each store  he visited until he had enough rodents to create his mighty hamster army. 

Chord/Cord

Chord: (noun) a musical note combination

Whittacker played a few chords on his piccolo before throwing it across the room in frustration at his inability to master the instrument within a single afternoon.

Cord: (noun) a flexible cable, string, or rope

For his newest art project, Rutager strung sixteen beer cans, two Pez dispensers, and a plastic angel on a single cord, hung them around the neck of his most attractive cow, and took photos of the cow in various poses.

Cite/Sight/Site

Cite: (verb) mention (usually as an example), refer to (often in the context of citing sources within academic works); (verb) order to appear in court on particular charges

Jellica Twollup cited the work of Dorothy Retallack to back up her assertion that plants love classical music and hate hard rock.

Mack McMacklemack was cited on the charge of stealing pink plastic garden flamingos to use as croquet mallets.

Sight: (noun) vision; (noun) something seen, something worth seeing

Nelda’s sight was poor, particularly in the dark when she would often mistake her husband for a potted plant.

Of all the sights that Tig Twigger had seen that day, the chainsaw juggling clown riding a unicycle on the back of a tap dancing unicorn had been the most impressive.

Site: (noun) a location, the place where something (such as a house) will be located or is located

The site that Nellie had chosen for her new home was nearly perfect; the only problems were that she didn’t  actually own the property and  there was currently a large white government building there.

Click/Clique

Click: (noun) a short, sharp sound; (verb) make a short, sharp sound

When Bobby heard the click, he realized that the CIA was tapping his phone to discover his secret haggis recipe.

She clicked her heels together and tap danced right out of the Internal Revenue Service office.

Clique: (noun) a small, exclusive group or club

Belinda was excluded from the clique because they only accepted girls with freckled noses and personality disorders. 

Climatic/Climactic

Climatic: (adjective) related to climate

Jezebel knew that climatic conditions would not be good for the picnic when she saw the tornado approaching.

Climactic: (adjective) the most exciting or important part of something (often a book or movie), forming a climax

The novel reached its climactic finale when Lord Sexington slew the sparkly vampire, after which he stood heroically on a rock baring his rippling chest to the Scottish wind to pose for the cover photo.

Coarse/Course

Coarse: (adjective) rough in texture, composed of large pieces, rude or unrefined

Finn thought that Melba’s sandpaper sheets were too coarse, but Melba said that sandpaper sheets and regular colonic cleanses were the keys to good health.

Course: (noun) a direction, path, or series of classes focused on a single subject

Millicent took a course in pseudo-intellectual postmodern analysis of cross-cultural flatulence at the University of Glenbeckingham.

Complacent/Complaisant

Complacent: (adjective) self-satisfied, satisfied with the way things are, not wanting to change

Smitty had grown complacent, but Brenda still wanted to escape from the Fortress of Doom.

Complaisant: (adjective) eager or willing to please others

Because he was a complaisant person by nature, Schrodinger let the zombies consume him.

Complement/Compliment

Complement: (verb) complete, make whole, balance

The hot dog slices complemented the spaghetti nicely, but the skittles were a bit too much.

Compliment: (noun) expression of admiration, congratulation, or praise; (verb) praise, flatter

Arty had such difficulty accepting compliments that he usually pepper sprayed anyone who praised him.

Wexford complimented Xena on her well-behaved snakes.

Console/Consul/Counsel/Council

Console: (noun) a control panel for a piece of electronic equipment; (noun) a TV or audio system cabinet

While working on her doomsday device, Lenora spilled liquid plutonium and Doritos all over her computer console.

Consul: (noun) a government-appointed official who resides in a foreign country to represent his or her own government’s commercial interests and citizens

The consul demanded greater recognition for her nation’s contribution to spork technology.

Counsel: (noun) guidance, advice, the act of advising; (verb) advise, give counsel, recommend

Geraldine’s wise counsel prevented Smitty from attempting to break the record for most bicycle parts ever eaten.

Norman counseled Yvonne to throw away the green, furry shrimp casserole.

Council: (noun) an assembly whose purpose is consultation or discussion, an advisory or legislative body

The council met to discuss plans for scheduling further meetings to discuss the scheduling of additional meetings.

Credible/Credulous

Credible: (adjective) believable, convincing, or trustworthy

Cookie Monster was not considered a credible witness in the Cookie Heist trial.

Credulous: (adjective) overly trusting, gullible (Its opposite term, incredulous, means sceptical.)

Credulous by nature, Albert trusted Portia Poodleater’s assurance that she would take good care of his dogs while he was away on business.

Cue/Queue

Cue: (noun) signal or sign that provides information about what is taking place or indicates the need to take a particular action, (noun) a wooden rod (typically used to play pool)

The director gave the cue for the dancing pumpkins to take the stage.

Chester whacked Marty over the head with his pool cue in revenge for teaching his parrot to sing Achy Breaky Heart. 

Queue: (noun) A lineup of people waiting for something

Outside the theater, Rita joined the queue for “Awesome Zombie Space Ship Shark Attack Robot Car Wars,” but when she reached the ticket window, she realized that she had mistakenly waited in line for tickets to “The Runaway Bride.”

Currant/Current

Currant: (noun) A small dried grape, often used in baking

Wilson put currants in everything he baked, including his hot dog and noodle casserole.

Current: (adjective) existing or happening now, up to date; (noun) the continuous movement of electricity, air, or water

Mikey hadn’t kept up with current events because he had been dead for 36 years.

A current of electricity gave Mikey superpowers, but he couldn’t enjoy them because the electricity killed him 30 seconds later.

Defuse/Diffuse

Defuse: (verb) reduce tension (typically among people), (verb) remove part of an explosive device so that it won’t blow up

To defuse the tense situation, Vera placated the frightened men with cupcakes and the angry rabbits with carrots.

Vera also defused the bomb that the rabbits had left in Edgar’s sock drawer.

Diffuse: (verb) to spread throughout a large area, (adjective) being spread throughout a large area rather than concentrated in one particular spot

With no gravity to pull it downward, Melton’s spilled Pepto Bismol diffused throughout the entire space station.

According to Dr. Seuss, attempting to get rid of a concentrated spot will lead to a diffuse and colourful mess.

Decent/Descent/Dissent

Decent: (adjective) kind, polite, moral, honest

Mary was a decent person, so she suppressed her urge to throw rotten tomatoes at Vivian.

Descent: (noun) lineage, ancestral origins; (noun) the act of moving downward (e.g., descending from a mountaintop)

Lorelei was of Scottish descent, yet she was able to blend in well with the flamingos.

Their descent from the mountain’s peak was hampered by a disgruntled goat.

Dissent: (verb) disagree, oppose, dispute; (noun) disagreement, opposition, dispute

The army squashed dissent by offering the protesters free hot dogs to disperse.

The question of llamas versus wildebeests led to significant dissent.

Desert/Dessert

Desert: (noun) a sand-filled landscape, (verb) abandon

Billy moved out into the desert to study the historic cultural dances of the sand people for his PhD thesis.

Beverley deserted Bartholomew in the middle of their honeymoon to run off with a bohemian sandwich artist.

Dessert: (noun) a sweet treat at the end of a meal

No one wanted to eat Nelson’s desserts because he just covered rocks with chocolate frosting and served them on a fancy platter.

Discomfit/Discomfort

Discomfit: (verb) cause unease or embarrassment

Those at the dinner party were discomfited when they realized that the host was using a cat litter scoop to stir the bolognaise sauce.

Discomfort: (verb) cause embarrassment or anxiety; (noun) embarrassment, anxiety, or slight pain

Although the clients at Chuck’s House of Therapeutic Massage sometimes experienced discomfort when massaged by the Incredible Hulk, they preferred his services to those of Edward Scissorhands.

Discreet/Discrete

Discreet: (adjective) careful and prudent (usually to avoid revealing confidential information or embarrassing others)

Jack could trust Linda to be discreet about his personal matters, so he was not worried that anyone would discover his secret stash of erotic Pogs.

Discrete: (adjective) distinct and separate

Each of Jack’s rubber chickens was kept in a discrete package, labelled with its name and the date of purchase, so he could always find the one he needed.  

Disinterested/Uninterested

Disinterested: (adjective) impartial, neutral

Spudrick was a disinterested party in the dispute between Glenda Mae and Marla Sue, which began with the theft of a pig and ended in a violent pillow fight.

Uninterested: (adjective) lacking interest

Wilma was uninterested in Betty’s detailed account of her past life as Cleopatra’s pet dog Sniffy.

Disperse/ Disburse

Disperse: (verb) scatter, leave, separate

The crowd dispersed quickly when the police set up loudspeakers and began blasting Jefferson Starship.

Disburse: (verb) pay, distribute (often refers to paying out from a fund)

The police were forced to disburse compensation money to all those in the crowd who had been injured in the stampede to escape the terrible music.

Disc/Disk

Some say that there is no difference between these two words. Others assert that they should be applied to different types of objects. Oxford University Press says: “Generally speaking, the British spelling is disc and the US spelling is disk, but there is much overlap and variation between the two. In particular, the spelling for senses relating to computers is nearly always disk, as in floppy disk, disk drive, and so on.”

Drier/Dryer

Drier: (adjective) more dry, less moist

Andy, who lived in the dessert, had drier skin than Mona, who lived in a vat of tapioca pudding.

Dryer: (noun) an appliance used to dry clothing after washing

Noting that for every eight socks she put in the dryer, only seven were there when the cycle was completed,  Eleanor concluded that her dryer was a portal to Narnia.

Dual/Duel

Dual: (adjective) comprising two parts, two uses, or two of the same item

The Sporkinator 5000 was a dual-use appliance because its pointy end could be used to poke holes in food and its blunt end could be used to squash things.

Duel: (noun) A contest or fight involving two individuals or two groups

Lord Sexington challenged Buzz Dastardly to a duel with water pistols at dawn.

Elicit/Illicit

Elicit: (verb) to obtain a response

Even after apologizing and begging for forgiveness, Boggy was unable to elicit a response from the sullen parrot.

Illicit: (adjective) illegal, immoral, against the rules

After Vera had an illicit affair with Rhonda’s husband, Rhonda took revenge by sneaking into Vera’s house and moving all of her belongings four inches to the left.

Emigrate/Immigrate

Emigrate: (verb) leave a country of residence

Ricky emigrated after his country lost the international Lawn Mower Racing championships.

Immigrate: (verb) move to a new country

He immigrated to a nation where greater investments were made to support the training of lawn mower racing athletes.

Enervate/Energize

Enervate: (verb) destroy or weaken the vitality or strength of something

He was enervated after playing video games for 72 consecutive hours while consuming nothing but Pop Tarts and ostrich jerky.

Energize: (verb) invigorate, excite

After drinking 16 cups of coffee, Norbert felt sufficiently energized to deal with the snakes in the bathtub.

Entitled/Titled

Most reputable sources consider these two words to be interchangeable when referring to titles:

His new book was titled/entitled Billy Badger and the Confused Musk Ox.

However, many people object to the use of entitled in this way, so it’s safer to avoid it. Entitled also has a more widely respected meaning: it refers to legal rights, justified claims, or being deserving of something.

According to local laws, Wilhelmina was entitled to half of the revenues from Spudrick’sCupcake Wars” fan fiction.

Eminent/Immanent/Imminent

Eminent: (adjective) famous or superior

Vanna was an eminent athletic coach who had trained top athletes in the sports of thumb wrestling, chess boxing, extreme ironing, and cheese rolling.

Immanent: (adjective) present, inherent, or existing within

A born-again Pastafarian, Norbert believed that the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s divine presence was immanent in all humans, most apes, and a few of the more spiritually aware hamsters.

Imminent: (adjective) impending, soon to happen

The dog believed that starvation was imminent whenever his food bowl had been empty for five minutes.

Envelop/Envelope

Envelop: (verb) surround, cover completely, enclose

When the Blob was dieting, it would still envelop its victims but would only consume their hats and shoes.

Envelope: (noun) a container for a letter, typically made of paper

Winston placed seventeen copies of “The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II in large envelopes and mailed them to his enemies.

Exercise/Exorcise

Exercise: (noun) physical activity; practice to develop a skill, as in math exercises; (verb) engage in physical activity

Lenora wondered if hunting for Cheetos lost in the sofa cushions counted toward the daily recommended amount of exercise.

After attempting unsuccessfully to complete a series of math exercises, Kirk discovered the problem: he was using muffins instead of numbers.

Bongo got plenty of exercise chasing the ring-tailed lemurs out of his rose garden each morning.

Exorcise: (verb) drive away an evil spirit

By shaking a tea kettle full of skittles over the possessed chihuahua and chanting the lyrics to Rebecca Black’s song “Friday,” Melburg was able to exorcise the evil spirit from his beloved pet.

More frequently confused words:

See the main Writer Resources page for guides to punctuation, grammar, and interesting words.

References:

    • 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.

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