Frequently Confused Words: F-O

Faint/Feign/Feint

Faint: (verb) lose consciousness, (adjective) dizzy, weak

Nelson nearly fainted with excitement when he thought he saw Justin Bieber on his neighbour’s porch, but it turned out to be a stack of turtles with a wig on top.

Frodo felt faint after consuming Lizzie’s hamburger surprise with secret sauce.

Feign: Fake something (often to get out of something)

Martha feigned death so that she wouldn’t have to go to the square dancing contest.

 Kip feigned interest in Walker’s collection of celebrity-shaped potatoes.

Feint: (verb) trick an opponent by pretending to begin one move (such as a punch) and then doing something else; (noun) the act of feinting

Garla feinted to the left to trick Mork into moving to the right so that she could grab the doomsday device.            

Laurel was confused by Anastasia’s feint and follow-up punch because they were playing checkers at the time.

Farther/Further

The primary difference between these two words is that farther is typically used to refer to physical distance (farther down the road), whereas further is usually reserved for figurative speech and means to a greater extent or degree.

Xerxes ran a little farther each day, determined to increase his fitness to the point where he could catch up with the ice cream truck.

Zeb was asked to provide further explanation of the purpose of his invention, a  sound-activated dancing toast rack.

Faze/Phase

Faze: (verb) disconcert, disturb, or embarrass

Mary Jane was fazed by her roommate Rory’s naked yoga routine.

Phase: (noun) a stage in a process or stage of development; (verb) introduce something or eliminate something in gradual stages, as in the expressions, phase something in and phase something out

“She’s just going through an irritable phase,” said Della, referring to her daughter’s collection of machine guns.

The boss has decided to phase in the new dress code slowly, starting with the tap shoes and velvet rabbit ears; the tutus won’t become mandatory until December.

Fewer/Less

Fewer: (adjective) used for things that can be counted as individual units (e.g., people, trees, kilometers, minutes)

Wilmer had fewer scorpions on his porch than Martha had in her pantry.

Less: (adjective) used for things that cannot be counted as individual units (e.g., time, distance, sugar, water)

Rhonda had less applesauce in her hair than Gerald did after the company picnic food fight.

Flammable/Inflammable

Both flammable and inflammable mean easily ignited and able to burn rapidly, but many people mistakenly assume that inflammable means not flammable (this is a logical assumption, given the prefix in).

Mistakenly believing that her inflammable suit was not flammable, Georgina jumped into the volcano.

Flaunt/Flout

Flaunt: (verb) exhibit shamelessly or ostentatiously

Belinda flaunted her wealth by wearing sixteen expensive hats stacked on top of one another and carrying nineteen designer handbags everywhere she went.

Flout: (verb) show scorn or contempt

Simba flouted convention by attending funerals in a badger costume.

Flounder/Founder

Flounder: (verb) stumble awkwardly, stagger clumsily, thrash about, or struggle, often in mud or water, though it can also refer to a mental struggle characterized by confusion

Scotty floundered in the mud wrestling pit, searching for his lost shoe as two women in bikinis thrashed about nearby.

The professor floundered when asked to explain quantum dynamics because his specialization was anthropology.

Founder: (verb) get stuck, sink, or fail; (noun) someone who establishes an institution, business, or settlement

Webster’s snake leash business foundered due to the fact that snakes don’t have necks.

Although he was the founder of Craptown, Cornelius hated the place and everyone in it.

Forbear/Forebear

Forbear: (verb) refrain from, choose not to do something (this is a nearly obsolete word)

He decided that he could not forbear eating all the roses from the couple’s wedding cake, so he consumed them and replaced them with Yoda figurines.

Forebear: (noun) ancestor

Included among Silvan’s forbears was Cornelius Whackadoodle, the founder of Craptown, USA.

Forward/Foreword

Forward: (adjective) ahead, toward the front, near the front, toward the future; (adverb) onward; (verb) to send an e-mail or letter received from one individual or organization on to another

Sam found his snakes in the forward section of the plane.

As a forward-thinking individual, Jessica felt that it was her duty to invent a cheese-seeking robot.

The marching band attempted to move forward, but the quicksand held them in place.

Marley was angry when Kimberly forwarded his private e-mails to members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Foreword: (noun) a book’s introduction

Willy was confused by the foreword’s references to the architecture of 20th century outhouses because the rest of the book was about fly fishing.

Grisly/Grizzly

Grisly: (adjective) revolting, gruesome, horrifying

Wayne thought that he had walked in on a grisly scene, but it turned out to be Noel’s newest three-dimensional ketchup art masterpiece.

Grizzly: (noun) a species of bear

The grizzly bear broke into the cabin and ate Xavier’s collection of celebrity-shaped potatoes.

Healthful/Healthy

Technically, healthful means health-promoting and healthy means in good health. However, healthful has been so frequently used to indicate health-promoting that this use is now accepted by most.

It’s important to eat a healthful breakfast said Marla while lighting her cigarette with a flame thrower.

Marla was surprisingly healthy, given that she drank heavily and wrestled alligators on weekends.

Historic/Historical

Historic things have a place in history because they are famous or important in some way. Historical things are related to past events. A landmark is historic; an essay about World War II is historical.

Elvis visited all the historic landmarks in Craptown, including the spot where the town’s founder, Cornelius Whackadoodle, cursed the town and everyone in it.

Ella’s historical essay on the evolution of the Finnish Wife Carrying Competition inspired the establishment of a similar local event: the Craptown Sheep Carrying Race.

Hoard/Horde

Hoard: (noun) a stash of something, usually kept hidden; (verb) collect and hide a large group of items (usually valuable items, though they may only be valuable to the hoarder)

Elvira kept a hoard of Chocodiles in the basement for emergencies.

Norton hoarded waffle irons so that he would be prepared in case of a worldwide waffle iron shortage.

Horde: (noun) A large crowd or group

When the raging horde arrived at the gate, Nora told them to go away and come back later once she’d finished watching Mr. Belvedere.

Hyper/Hypo

When added to the beginnings of words, hyper means more and hypo means less.

The hyperactive potbellied pigs ran around the kitchen making a mess and ruining Irving’s nice clean floors.

The hypoactive cat was often mistaken for a striped meatloaf.

Imply/Infer

The person who implies suggests something; the person who infers concludes or deduces something based upon reasoning and evidence. In both cases, no explicit statement is made; the one who implies indicates something in a subtle way without saying it outright, whereas the one who infers deduces something based on subtle or indirect indicators.

Zora implied that Mindy was insane by spinning her finger in circles next to her own ear whenever Mindy spoke.

Mindy inferred that Zora was an unpleasant person based on Zora’s tendency to make rude gestures when others were speaking.

Incredible/Incredulous

Incredible: (adjective) sufficiently implausible to cause disbelief, extraordinary

Marlena told an incredible story about a singing buffalo.

Incredulous: (adjective) doubtful, skeptical, disbelieving (note: this word does not mean difficult or impossible to believe)

Melvin was incredulous until Marlena brought him to the field where he heard the buffalo sing Monster Mash.

Ingenious/Ingenuous

Ingenious: (adjective) brilliant, inventive, original, or clever

Mephisto, who was an ingenious inventor, created a time machine so that he could go back in time and prevent himself from watching Battlefield Earth.

Ingenuous: (adjective) candid, frank, naive, guileless, unsuspecting, or innocent

Just over a decade ago, an ingenuous young man accepted movie tickets to Battlefield Earth from a woman who pretended to be his friend; luckily, the naive young man’s future self arrived in a time machine to stop him from sitting through the entire movie.

Lead/Led

Lead: (verb) bring a person or an animal along to a destination; (verb) direct or guide, command, be in charge of; (verb) be used as a means to access something; (noun) the first; (noun) the example that indicates a way of doing things; (noun) the starring role in a play or a movie; (noun) a type of metal

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him perform in a water ballet show.

Zelda realized that Max was leading the marching band toward the lake of spilled Krazy Glue, but there was nothing she could do to stop the disaster.

The corridor on the left leads to a room where a lone monkey sits smoking a cigar

Selma planned to lead the way in showing others how to create macramé toilet cozies.

Geraldine Muckley landed the lead in Montague’s play, A New Rooster for Sally, after the original star, Brandine Ugby, was run over by a zamboni.

In a fit of rage, Spencer attacked Lydia’s marshmallow Peeps with a lead pipe.

Led: (verb) the past tense of the verb lead

She led Rory down to the basement to show him her newest cheese sculpture.

Liable/Libel

Liable: (adjective) legally responsible; likely to do or be something when combined with to

He is liable for the damages caused by his pet rhinoceros.

For some reason, houses on this block are liable to spontaneous combustion.

 Libel: (noun) a malicious, false written statement; (verb) to publish libel

 Evan Mackleroy accused the magazine of libel, arguing that as a vegetarian, he would never engage in cannibalism.

 After the magazine had libeled Mackleroy with the cannibalism charges, it printed an apology on page 102 in a 6-point font.

Literally/Figuratively

Literally refers to something accurate, factual, and exact, but it is often misused in figurative expressions. For example, He literally ate his body weight in cheese, after which he literally had to roll home, is wrong.

Confusing literally and figuratively is one of those things that will get you into big trouble with the grammar police, so it’s best avoided.

Livid/Florid

Livid: (adjective) bluish gray (as in a livid bruise), (adjective) furious

The drunk man had a livid bruise on his forehead after head-butting his reflection in the mirror.

The drunk became livid with his own reflection because he thought the man in the mirror had stolen his beer.

Florid: (adjective) having a flushed or red complexion

Wilfred had a florid face due to his heavy drinking and his tendency to become enraged at the slightest provocation.

Loath/Loathe

Loath: (adjective) unwilling or reluctant, typically followed by to

Belinda was loath to tell Jebediah that his pants were on backward.

Loathe: (verb) feel intense disgust or dislike

Melvin loathed conflict, so he just sat there and let the thieves take all his cheese.

Lob/Lop

Lob: (verb) throw

Lobbing pork dumplings at those who displease you is socially inappropriate.

Lop: (verb) cut off

They lopped off branches until the tree was shaped like a giant dancing hamster.

Lose/Loose

Lose: (verb) misplace, be deprived of, be unable to find; (verb) shed (as in pounds during weight loss); (verb) fail to win

Not wanting to lose her children in the crowd, Martina wrapped them in solar-powered flashing Christmas lights before heading out to the festival.

Edmond lost the race because he kept stopping to pick flowers along the way.

Loose: (adjective) unfastened or not tightly fastened, not held or clustered tightly together, not pulled tight; (adjective) free; (adjective) inexact; (verb) unfasten, release, make less tight; (verb) set free; (verb) shoot a weapon

A loose latch on the hamster cage led to disaster as Fuzzmaster III escaped and made his way into the pantry.

Frankie painted himself gray and hid among the pile of loose rocks until the angry horde of Girl Scouts had passed.

Barnaby broke free from the milling crowd and charged toward the giant toilet paper sculpture, scissors in hand.

Marek had a loose definition of a single slice of pie, cutting out a small wedge and then taking the remainder.

Filmore loosened his belt, pulled down his pants, and mooned the angry mime.

The children loosed a volley of meatloaf chunks at their principal to protest the cancellation of Pizza Day.

They loosed their arrows upon the enemy who, armed only with water balloons, retreated hastily.

Militate/Mitigate

Militate: (verb) act as a potent factor against something, make something unlikely to happen (used with against)

A number of factors militate against the likelihood of a boy in a poor neighbourhood growing up to be an ostrich, including basic biology and the laws of probability.

Mitigate: (verb) make less harmful or severe

Martin attempted to mitigate the effects of his clumsiness by wrapping himself in bubble wrap before leaving the house.

Nauseous/Nauseated

Although many don’t distinguish between the two, technically, nauseous means sickening while nauseated means feeling ill, as though about to vomit. Therefore, people who say “I am nauseous” are saying “I make others sick.”

Noisome/Noisy

Noisome: (adjective) offensive or nasty smelling

Although the slice of pizza grew increasingly noisome, Arvid would not throw it away because its toppings formed a pattern resembling Elvis Presley’s face.

Noisy: (adjective) loud

Grandma Miggins’ parties tended to be noisy because the members of her knitting circle were all heavy drinkers and quite obnoxious when intoxicated.

Normalcy/Normality

Both of these words mean the condition of being typical, usual, or as expected. However, many people hate normalcy, so normality is a safer choice.

Things at the office eventually returned to normality once everyone had forgotten about the erotic cake that Jane had brought to celebrate the Solstice. 

Orient/Orientate

Both mean to adapt or direct something or someone toward or for something, or to find one’s position relative to one’s surroundings, but orient is the preferred form.

Dobbie had difficulty orienting himself when he woke up after a night of heavy drinking because the traffic cone he wore on his head covered his eyes and the merry-go-round he’d fallen asleep on was still spinning.

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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