Are You Using These Words Correctly?

The English language is full of many words that sound exactly the same, but mean different things and are spelled differently. However, it’s also full of many words that, while not exactly the same, are similar enough that they are often confused. Don’t be caught by these:

eatable; edible. Edible means that it is fit for human consumption, whether or not it is tasty (I wouldn’t eat snails unless I were starving, but they are edible). Eatable means that is at least palatable (the food at this restaurant isn’t great, but it’s eatable).

emigrate; immigrate. To emigrate is to leave one country to live in another one (Denise always wanted to emigrate to New Zealand from San Francisco). To immigrate is to enter a country to live, leaving a past home (she finally got her wish, and immigrated to Christchurch on the South Island).

empathy; sympathy. Empathy is to understand someone else’s situation by putting yourself in their shoes (I felt empathy for her when she fell off the curb, because I often do it myself). Sympathy is to have compassion and feel someone else’s sorrow (I sent a sympathy card when her father died).

ensure; insure; assure. Ensure means to make sure something will (or won’t) happen; insure is used about insurance; assure is what we do to let people know that their needs are being met (I assure you, this policy will ensure that your car is properly insured).

enumerable; innumerable. Enumerable means countable (the planets visible from earth are enumerable). Innumerable means it can’t be counted (there are innumerable stars in the sky).

every day; everyday. This is one your Guru sees wrong so often it’s made her carry around a Sharpie and a bottle of Wite-Out. Just about everyone seems to think it is always one word, and they couldn’t be more wrong. Just as you wouldn’t write “everypiano” or “everywindow,” don’t say “everyday,” when you mean “every day.” It’s very simple: One word, it’s an adjective (these are my everyday clothes); two words, it’s an adverb (I wear them every day).

flaunt; flout. Flaunt means to show off ostentatiously (if you’ve got it, flaunt it). Flout means to treat with disdain or scorn (people frequently flout the rules of good grammar).

flesh out; flush out. To flesh out means to add substance to, like adding flesh to a skeleton (she fleshed out the outline to complete her thesis). To flush out means to reveal something concealed (Van Helsing opened the coffin in an attempt to flush out the vampire).

flounder; founder. To flounder is to struggle clumsily (the job seeker floundered to answer the interviewer’s difficult question). To founder is to sink or collapse (his finances foundered when he lost his job).

forbear; forebear. To forbear is to refrain with an effort (he desperately wanted to propose to her, but knew he should forbear until a better time). A forebear is an ancestor or precursor (the town was founded by Debra’s forebears).

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