Device vs Devise

Commonly Confused Words

device and devise - mad scientist
We need to devise a plan to destroy the mad scientist's evil device. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The words device are devise are commonly confused--probably because they sound similar and their meanings are related. However, device and devise are two different parts of speech.

Definitions

The noun device means an object, a gadget, or a piece of equipment made for some special purpose.

The verb devise means to plan, invent, or form in one's mind.

Also see: Commonly Confused Words: Advice and Advise.

Examples

  • A smartphone can be a handy device for avoiding work.
  • "The sink is a magnificent device: it fills with water, holds it awhile, and then, when the drain is released, it empties."
    (George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty. Hyperion, 2001)
  • We need to devise new solutions to old problems.
  • "Scientists at the University of Bologna in Italy have devised a hand-held device that, when passed over the body, identifies different resonations of body tissues in response to a fluctuating frequency of microwaves."
    (The Science of Anti-Aging Medicine, ed. by R. Klatz and R. Goldman. American Academy of Anti-Aging Med, 2003)

Usage Note

"A device is a machine or tool; to devise means to invent or concoct something. (To devise one must be wise. Will one's device work on ice?)

The stable hand would like to devise a device that cleans up after the horses."

(Phineas J. Caruthers, Style & Circumstance: The Gentleperson's Guide to Good Grammar.

Adams Media, 2012)

Idiom Alert: "Left to Our Own Devices"
 

  • "When we're left to our own devices we use the learning-by-doing method. Left to our own devices means there's no one looking over our shoulder in front of whom we feel embarrassed if we fail."
    (Roger C. Schank, Making Minds Less Well Educated Than Our Own. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004)
  • "Have you received the message by now that our emotions don't treat us well when it comes to managing our money? Left to our own devices, we tend to do stupid things with our money."
    (A.J. Monte and Rick Swope, The Market Guys' Five Points for Trading Success. Wiley, 2011)

Practice Exercise

(a) We must _____ a way to rescue Lassie from the well.

(b) Maybe a _____ involving pulleys and kittens will work.

(c) "My father, in the firefly-rife backyard of my first home, lights a bundle of little firecrackers and darts dramatically back, and we all stand around in an awed circle, at what we hope is a safe distance, as the _____ twists and jumps and shouts its furious, frustrated noise."
(John Updike, "The Fourth of July," 1991)

(d) "You can imagine, Watson, with what eagerness I endeavored to piece together our scientific findings and to _____ some common thread on which they might all hang."
(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," 1893)

Answers to Practice Exercise

 

(a) We must devise a way to rescue Lassie from the well.

(b) Maybe a device involving pulleys and kittens will work.

(c) "My father, in the firefly-rife backyard of my first home, lights a bundle of little firecrackers and darts dramatically back, and we all stand around in an awed circle, at what we hope is a safe distance, as the device twists and jumps and shouts its furious, frustrated noise."
(John Updike, "The Fourth of July," 1991)

(d) "You can imagine, Watson, with what eagerness I endeavored to piece together our scientific findings and to devise some common thread on which they might all hang."
(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," 1893)