Aid vs. Aide: How to Choose the Right Word

Although they're related, these homophones have distinct meanings

Girl sticking bandaid onto mothers hand from first aid kit
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The words "aid" and "aide" are homophones—they sound alike but have different (though related) meanings. Among all of the homophones in the English language, these are two of the most frequently confused.

How to Use "Aid"

The verb "aid" means to assist: to provide what is needed to achieve a goal. The noun "aid" refers to material assistance or to a person, organization, or thing that provides such assistance. As a noun, "aid" is frequently a synonym for "charity," "relief," or "largesse."

How to Use "Aide"

An "aide" is a person who acts as a helper or an assistant. The word comes from "aide-de-camp," a French term for a military officer who assists a senior officer. "Aide" is always a noun; it often refers to someone who supports an important person such as a politician or a professor.

Neither "aid" nor "aide" should be confused with AIDS, which is an acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Examples

"Aid" can be either a noun or a verb. It usually refers to some form of material support or to the act of providing such support:

  • The United Nations called for nearly $500 million in aid for flood-ravaged Pakistan.
  • The United Nations appealed for donations to aid flood victims in Pakistan.

"Aid" can also refer to devices designed to provide assistance, such as hearing aids, household aids, mobility aids, and so forth:

  • After breaking his leg, he had to use a pair of crutches as a walking aid.

"Aide" is always used in reference to a person whose job is to help or assist:

  • Before the debate, the candidate reviewed talking points with her aides.
  • He did not know where to find the document; such materials were usually handled by his aide.

How to Remember the Difference

One way to remember the difference between "aid" and "aide" is that "aide," like the word "helper," has an "e" in it. If you need a helper, you are looking for an aide. An aide is always a person, usually someone whose professional responsibility is to provide assistance (or aid sans the "e").

In some circumstances, however, "aid" can refer to a person, such as in the following sentence:

  • When I was too sick to take care of myself, my husband was a big aid to me.

"Aid" is the appropriate word in this context because the husband was not acting in a professional capacity; he was merely the source of assistance.

Common Idioms

"Aid and abet" is a legal term that means to help or assist someone in committing a crime or other wrongful action:

  • For their role in helping the criminal escape, they were charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive.

"Come to [someone's] aid" is an expression that means to give assistance or support:

  • When Jim's car broke down, another driver came to his aid and gave him a lift to his destination.

"In aid of" is a British expression that means helping (someone or something):

  • The money was collected in aid of the flood victims who had to leave their homes.

Sources

  • Lester, Mark. "McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage." McGraw-Hill, 2018.
  • Strumpf, Michael, and Auriel Douglas. "The Grammar Bible." Owl (Henry Holt and Co.), 2004.