Commonly Confused Words: Hurdle, Hurl, and Hurtle

hurdle, hurl, and hurtle
A young athlete clears a hurdle. (Tara Moore/Getty Images)

The words hurdle and hurtle are near-homophones: that is, they sound almost the same, especially when they're not pronounced clearly. But be careful: these two words have different meanings. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the verb hurtle overlaps in meaning with another similar-sounding word--hurl.

Definitions

(1) Hurdle. As a noun, hurdle refers to a fence or a frame--one of a series of barriers to be jumped over in a race.

The plural form, hurdles, refers to a race in which people or horses have to jump over barriers. 

Metaphorically a hurdle can refer to any obstacle, barrier, or problem that needs to be overcome.

As a verb, hurdle means to leap over or overcome an obstacle or difficulty. The act of running and jumping over an obstacle is called hurdling.

(2) Hurl. The verb hurl means to throw something with a lot of force. Hurl can also mean to say or shout something (often an insult) in a forceful way. In the slang sense of the word, hurl means to vomit.

(3) Hurtle. Hurtle is a verb that means to move with great speed or to throw with great force.

Examples

  • "She made herself think of a flock of sheep penned up in a hurdle in a field. She made one of the sheep jump the hurdle; then another. One, two, three, four—they jumped over the hurdle. But the fifth sheep would not jump. It turned round and looked at her."
    (Virginia Woolf, The Years, 1937)
     
  • "Can renewable-energy companies be profitable? Can green make green? The answer, of course, is yes. Just as soon as they cross over a fundamental hurdle: finding a strategy that actually works."
    (Julie Creswell and Diane Cardwell, "Renewable Energy Stumbles Toward the Future." The New York Times, April 22, 2016)
     
  • "Always big crowd-pullers, hurdling events are among the most exciting at any athletics meet. The object of a hurdles race is to jump over a series of gatelike obstacles and reach the finish line first."
    (The Sports Book, 3rd ed. DK, 2013) 
     
  • "Bobby Davies . . . had such an incredible arm that he could stand at one end of the court and hurl the ball all the way down its length, hitting the backboard at the far end."
    (John Taylor, The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. Random House, 2005)
  • "On more than a few occasions Will went to the public school at the start of his lunch break and blew on his whistle, causing the Muss members to leap up from their desks, hurtle out of their classrooms, and form up for a quick hike."
    (Jamie Malanowski, Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War. W. W. Norton, 2014)
     

Usage Notes

Hurl and Hurtle
"[H]url denotes a greater degree of separation between the propelling force and the thing propelled than hurtle does: you hurl a discus but hurtle down the hallway.

"Although collision was a central part of hurtle's original meaning (dating from the 13th century), the word took on a collisonless sense in the early 16th century.

Today the idea of violent impact depends largely on the preposition that follows the verb: against, into, or together denotes a collision <hurtled against [or into] a tree> <the knights hurtled their steeds together>, whereas along, by, down, past, and up tend to denote collisionless rushing <the car hurtled by [or past] the crowd> <the horse hurtled along [or down or up] the road> <the plane hurtled up into its flight pattern>."
(Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2016)


Practice

(a) The major _____ for single parents is finding a job that fits in with their childcare responsibilities.

(b) "He shouted and made a desperate attempt to _____ the grenade through the open hatch, out on to the empty deck above. It was a good and gallant effort, but the grenade hit the hatchway combing and fell back."
(Robin Hunter, True Stories of the Commandos.

Virgin Books, 2000) 

(c) "[W]hile the spacecraft continued to _____ on toward Jupiter, overflow crowds had poured out of Beckman Auditorium on the campus of the California Institute of Technology."
(David Morrison and Jane Samz, Voyage to Jupiter. NASA, 1980) 

Answers to Practice Exercises

 

(a) The major hurdle for single parents is finding a job that fits in with their childcare responsibilities.

(b) "He shouted and made a desperate attempt to hurl the grenade through the open hatch, out on to the empty deck above. It was a good and gallant effort, but the grenade hit the hatchway combing and fell back."
(Robin Hunter, True Stories of the Commandos. Virgin Books, 2000) 

(c) "[W]hile the spacecraft continued to hurtle on toward Jupiter, overflow crowds had poured out of Beckman Auditorium on the campus of the California Institute of Technology."
(David Morrison and Jane Samz, Voyage to Jupiter. NASA, 1980) 

 

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Hurdle, Hurl, and Hurtle." ThoughtCo, Apr. 1, 2018, thoughtco.com/hurdle-hurl-and-hurtle-1689416. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, April 1). Commonly Confused Words: Hurdle, Hurl, and Hurtle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hurdle-hurl-and-hurtle-1689416 Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Hurdle, Hurl, and Hurtle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hurdle-hurl-and-hurtle-1689416 (accessed May 27, 2018).