Frequently Confused Words: P-Z

Palate/Palette/Pallet

Palate: (noun) the roof of the mouth, (noun) the sense of taste

He held the pill between his tongue and his palate until he was sure that Nurse Ratchett was gone.

Candy did not have a refined palate; she was happy with anything that contained some combination of hot dog slices and noodles.

Palette: (noun) a board on which a painter mixes colours, (noun) a range of colours

He spent hours mixing the colours on his palette to produce the right shade of brown for his masterwork,” Cats Playing Go Fish.”

Pallet: (noun) a primitive or makeshift bed (often stuffed with straw or other old-fashioned materials), (noun) a platform on which warehouse materials are stacked

He preferred his pallet stuffed with old potatoes to Delia’s waterbed with its pink velvet sheets and array of stuffed animals staring at him with their cold, judgmental eyes.

Stacking case after case of automatic banana peelers on a pallet, Ferdinand thought about how lazy people had become. 

Peaceable/Peaceful

Peaceable: (adjective) inclined to avoid conflict and to be peaceful in general

Because he had a peaceable nature, Orin did not participate in the violent brawl over the last office doughnut.

Peaceful: (adjective) the state of being peaceful, tranquil, and free from conflict

The office was once again peaceful after all of Marguerite’s enemies had been slain and she held the last doughnut in her hand.

Peak/Peek/Pique

Peak: (noun) top, typically used to refer to mountains and other tall, pointy things, though it can also refer to the top of one’s field; (adjective) maximum, at the highest level of

Renaldo, an accomplished climber who had survived many dangerous ascents to the peaks of the world’s tallest mountains, died in a tragic broccoli-related accident on his own front lawn.

Jondolar was at the peak of his career as a professional bog snorkeler.

The hideous statue was restored to peak condition so that people would have the opportunity to be repelled by it for many years to come.

Peek: (verb) look quickly or furtively; (noun) a quick, furtive look

Louis peeked into the kitchen to check for witnesses before stealing the cupcakes.

Erin sneaked a peak into the kitchen to check if Louis was stealing the cupcakes that she had spiked with hot sauce.

Pique: (verb) arouse curiosity or interest; (adjective – piqued) irritated or resentful; (noun) resentment, irritation

Ronald’s curiosity was piqued when he saw Wanda sneaking off with four rolls of duct tape, a pink frilly umbrella, a bucket of skittles, and a pygmy goat covered in silly string.

Ronald was piqued by the fact that Wanda gave the goat a more expensive Christmas present than she had given him.

Ronald stormed out in a fit of pique when he realized that Wanda had replaced the picture of him she kept in her locket with a photo of the goat.

Pedal/Peddle/Petal

Pedal: (noun) a lever, often (though not always) operated by foot, that causes a machine to stop, go, or work; (verb) to push pedals in order to cause a machine to start, stop, or work

Rutger hit the brake pedal hard to avoid crashing into the sausage delivery van.

Velma pedaled her bicycle into a lake so that she wouldn’t have to attend the birthday party Aunt Gladiola was hosting for her twin poodles.

Peddle: (verb) sell goods, usually by traveling from place to place; can also refer to promoting ideas or beliefs

He peddled useless appliances such as the Apple Decorator 5000, the Kumquat Rotater Pro, and the Salami Agitator Deluxe.

He peddled his idea for a documentary about banana safety awareness after a spate of accidental banana pokings had left many people in the neighbourhood irritated.

Petal: (noun) a soft, colourful part of a flower’s corolla

Norman left a trail of flower petals from the front door to the bedroom as a romantic gesture for his wife, but their pet goat Odie had eaten them all by the time she arrived home from work.

Penultimate/Ultimate

Penultimate: (adjective) second to last

Morton took the penultimate spot in the joggling competition. (Yes, this is actually a sport.)

Ultimate: (adjective) final, farthest, happening at the end of some process; (adjective) most extreme or greatest

Her ultimate goal was to win back all the gerbils she had lost to Magda during their last poker game.

Wilford’s ultimate destination was Floyds Knobs, Indiana.

Roberta, the ultimate pineapple rolling champion of her era, was also a talented beer pong player.

Pole/Poll

Pole: (noun) a long slender object, usually made of wood or metal

Zef used a pole to retrieve his underwear from the statue’s head and contemplated cutting back on his drinking.

Poll: (noun) a survey designed to gather people’s opinions, beliefs, or preferences; (noun) the record of votes cast during an election; (verb) to record votes or opinions

Fud, a local xenophobe, polled his neighbours to determine their receptiveness to the idea of surrounding the town with a piranha-infested moat.

Pore/Pour

Pour: (verb) flow, cause something to flow (usually by tipping a container to dispense a substance such as milk or cereal); (verb) rain hard

He poured his gazpacho soup over Lillian’s head and stormed off in disgust, taking his foul-mouthed parrot with him. 

It was pouring with rain  when the aliens showed up at Nettie’s door to ask for directions to Pluto.

Pore: (noun) a tiny opening in skin or on a plant, rock, etc.; (verb) study attentively

With his tiny pores, Errol’s skin appeared flawless, but he spoiled his beauty by selling advertising space on his forehead.

Nermal pored over the books for hours but found no instructions for breeding unicorns.

Precipitate/Precipitous

Precipitate: (verb) hurl downward (usually from great height), (verb) cause to happen prematurely or suddenly (typically bad things), (verb) condense and fall from the sky (rain), (verb) be separated as a solid from a solution

Narlene’s habit of whacking people over the head with baguettes precipitated a feud with the neighbours.

Precipitous: (adjective) steep, sheer, resembling a precipice, having several precipices

Despite the danger posed by the precipitous drop, Nettie scrambled down the slope to hang decorative garlands of Christmas tinsel around the necks of the bewildered mountain goats.

Premier/Premiere

Premier: (adjective) first, most important, foremost

They were the world’s premier death metal band until their lead singer left to join a barber shop quartet.

Premiere: (noun) the first showing of something, typically a play or movie; (verb) to show something for the first time

His play, “A New Squid for Brenda,” premiered at the Spuzzum Community Theatre.

Prescribe/Proscribe

Prescribe: (verb) impose or direct, set down as a guide or rule, order to be used (e.g., prescribe antibiotics), establish laws or rules

He prescribed fresh air and bed rest for everything from parasitic alien infestation to exploding head syndrome.

Proscribe: (verb) prohibit, forbid, denounce, condemn, banish, outlaw

King Leonard IV proscribed the use of pineapples in sport after a series of tragic pineapple-related accidents.

Pretense/Pretext

Pretense: (noun) an attempt to deceive by faking something

Her pretense of clog dancing expertise led to many foot injuries that evening.

Pretext: (noun) a false reason given for doing something, used to keep the real reason secret

Skeletor called his ex-girlfriend on the pretext of asking about her potbellied pig, but he really wanted to find out if she was still dating He-Man.

Preventive/Preventative

Both words mean something that prevents something else (often disease). Either can be used, but the majority of grammarians prefer preventive.

He took a number of preventive measures to avoid catching colds, including getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of citrus fruits, and sealing himself in plastic wrap whenever he had to leave the house.

Principal/Principle

Principal: (adjective) first or highest in rank, degree, worth, or importance; (noun) a person who holds the highest rank (e.g., school principal); (noun) financial holding that does not include revenue or interest; (noun) sum of money that is owed, on which interest must be calculated

Velda was the principal spoon examiner at Spoon Examiners Inc.

As the school’s principal, Melinda felt that it was her duty to inform the parents after the tragic pudding vat explosion.

Principle: (noun) basic truth, standard, or rule

His approach to relationships was based on the principle that giving others lots of chocolate will keep them happy.

The basic principles of physics indicate that it is a bad idea to run headfirst into a brick wall.

Prophecy/Prophesy

Prophecy: (noun) a prediction regarding future events

Layla’s prophesy about the magical chicken came true one dark and stormy night.

Prophesy (verb): make a prediction

Because everything Layla prophesied involved magical chickens, people tended to be skeptical of her predictions.

Quote/Quotation

Quote: (verb) speak or write something that has previously been said or written by someone else; (noun) some dictionaries say that quote may be used as a synonym for quotation

Whenever he did not know the answer to a question, Rupert quoted Shakespeare to confuse his interrogator.

Quotation: (noun) the exact words of one person used by another in speech or writing

“The problem with quotations on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity.”
— Abraham Lincoln

Raise/Raze

Raise: (verb) bring up (can refer to anything ranging from a subject to a flag to a cloud of dust to a child)

He raised his fists and shouted, I will not eat these hamburgers without ketchup.

Raze: (verb) tear down, destroy (typically refers to a settlement or building)

The queen ordered that Captain Jack’s house be razed after he cooked and ate her favourite pigeon, Lord Featherington IV.

Ravage/Ravish

Ravage: (verb) severely damage or destroy

Rhonda used a meat tenderizer to ravage Jeb’s collection of ceramic wombats.

Ravish: (verb) rape or carry off by force (an old-fashioned use for the word); in modern times, ravish is often used to indicate that something enraptures others, filling them with intense delight

Although Matilda’s dress was ravishing, the effect was spoiled by her pork chop hat.

Reek/Wreak

Reek: (noun) a foul smell, (verb) to stink

Miranda reeked of Marmite because she believed that rubbing it on her skin would help her maintain a youthful appearance.

Wreak: (verb) cause something damaging or harmful

She wreaked vengeance on those who refused to wear the hideous sweaters she knitted for them.

Regardless/Irregardless

Although some dictionaries have started to accept irregardless as a synonym for regardless (which means despite everything), it is a sloppily constructed word (including both ir and less creates a double negative). However, the bigger problem with using this word is that many people will automatically subtract 20 to 50 IQ points from their estimate of your intelligence, so irregardless is best avoided.

Reign/Rein

Rein: (noun) a strap attached to a bit that is used to guide a horse, (verb) use reins to guide a horse, (verb) restrain or keep under control

Claude grabbed the reigns and urged his horse forward until he had reached the McDonalds drive-through window.

Brody  had to rein in his spending because his wife said she would leave him if he bought any more Jar Jar Binks paraphernalia.

Reign: (verb) rule, govern (often used with over); (noun) a period of rule

The king reigned over his subjects with an iron fist, so no one dared make fun of his hilarious toupee.

Restaurateur/Restauranteur

Restaurateur is correct. Restauranteur is not actually a word.

The restaurateur’s new concept restaurant, Satan’s House of Squid, was not as successful as he had anticipated.

Restive/Restless

Restive: (adjective) stubborn and unruly (typically due to boredom or dissatisfaction)

The children grew restive during their field trip to the screen door factory.

Restless: (adjective) unable to relax and be still, fidgety (typically due to anxiety or boredom)

The family grew restless while watching the six hours of video that Uncle Norbert had shot during his trip to the Museum of Fake Frogs in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Seasonal/Seasonable

Seasonal: (adjective) dependent on or belonging to a specific season, occurring only during that season

Snowball fights among the staff are a seasonal occurrence.

Seasonable: (adjective) appropriate to a given season (e.g., clothing such as scarves in winter)

While the others wore seasonable clothing to face the winter storm, Lana chose to go out in a bikini and high heels.

Sensual/Sensuous

Sensual: (adjective) arousing the senses, often used to indicate sexual and other pleasures

Egbert felt that the erotic cakes he purchased from a local bakery were delightfully sensual, but others felt they were not appropriate for the church picnic.

Sensuous: (adjective) affecting the senses in a positive way

Everyone wanted to fondle Marilyn’s hat because it was made from such sensuous material.

Some say the primary difference between the two words is that sensual relates specifically to sexual matters whereas sensuous indicates aesthetic enjoyment in general. Others maintain that the words can be used interchangeably.

Slay/Sleigh/Sleight

Slay: (verb) kill

Her plans to slay the neighbours and steal their turnips were thwarted by a rhinoceros that just happened to be passing through town.

Sleigh: (noun) an open vehicle pulled over ice or snow by animals, usually horses or dogs, though occasionally other creatures (e.g., Santa’s sleigh pulled by reindeer)

Inspired by the popularity of dog sled racing, Waldo McButters attempted to introduce the sport of cat sled racing; however, the sport proved less successful due to lack of interest among both humans and cats.

Sleight: (noun) trickery, deceitful craftiness, skill, dexterity (often used with of hand)

Using sleight of hand, Mrs. Terwilliger was able to steal Mrs. Cratchet’s best garden gnome and replace it with a large troll doll.

Spade/Spayed

Spade (noun): a small, narrow shovel

He used a spade to dig the soil where he would plant the seeds from his hamburger bun in the hope of growing a hamburger tree.

Spay: (verb) remove the ovaries from a female animal so that she can no longer reproduce (past tense: spayed)

Reilly did not neuter his cat or spay his dog because he secretly hoped they would fall in love and produce a litter of little cogs.

Stationary/Stationery

Stationary: (adjective) fixed in place, still

Jimmy grew bored with the unchanging view on his stationary bicycle, so he stuck it on top of Lorelei’s car and had her drive him around for the duration of his workout.

Stationery: (noun) paper, pens, and other writing materials

Although Vincent chose to overlook Igby’s theft of office stationery, when Igby began robbing their clients at gunpoint, Vincent had no choice but to give him a stern lecture on appropriate office behaviour.

Storey/Story

Storey (noun): one floor (level) of a building

Terrence lived on the sixteenth storey of an apartment building in the tenth circle of hell with his wife, six children, and a dog named Mr. Snuffy.

Story: (noun) a fictional narrative, account, anecdote, or lie

His newest story, Peter’s Penultimate Porcupine, spent 10 weeks on the bestseller list.

Malabar found Loki’s story about the dancing pigs highly implausible.

*Although storey is used for building levels in the UK and Canada, story is used for building levels in the U.S.

Than/Then

Than is used for comparing and contrasting (more than, less than, taller than, more powerful than).

Thor was stronger than Walter, but Walter was better at crocheting slipcovers.

Then indicates that one thing follows another or results from it.

Walter ran, then he jumped, releasing the pie at the last second and scoring a perfect hit.

Tortuous/Torturous

Tortuous: (adjective) winding, crooked, with plenty of twists and turns; (adjective) complex and lengthy

He chose a tortuous route to the Spoon Museum so that he’d have time to tell Shawna about the dancing marmots.

Lenora gave a tortuous explanation for state of the dog, which was covered in sticky notes and sporting a jaunty new bowler hat.

Torturous: (adjective) painful, a cause of suffering

Hal’s visit to the Museum of Jagged Objects turned out to be torturous ordeal.

Troop/Troupe

Troop: (noun) a group of soldiers, a crew or other grouping of people or animals

The Girl Scout troop pelted Filbert with cookies.

Troupe: (noun) a group of performers

Felicity joined a local troupe of acrobats to acquire the skills she would need to escape the horde of monkeys that had been terrorizing her town.

Unexceptionable/Unexceptional

Unexceptionable: (adjective) beyond reasonable objection, irreproachable

His argument against hugging the alligator was unexceptionable.

Unexceptional: (adjective) usual, normal

Nina’s pool was unexceptional, while Evan’s was full of squid.

Wraith/Wreath/Wreathe

Wraith: (noun) ghost, specter, column of vapour, shadow, insubstantial form

What he had taken for a wraith turned out to be Mrs. McMuggins wrapped in tinfoil and wearing her marshmallow hat.

Wreath: (noun) an arrangement of branches, flowers, and other decorative items, shaped into a ring

Because there were no trees in her area, Meredith made Christmas wreaths from pipe cleaners and toilet paper.

Wreathe: (verb) surround, encircle

He wreathed the Christmas tree with a decorative string of pine-scented air fresheners.

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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