Straight and Strait

Commonly Confused Words

straight and strait
The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow and shallow passage of water (or strait) between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. (Marcos Welsh/Getty Images)

The words straight and strait are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.


Definitions

As an adjective, straight has several meanings, including level, upright, not bent, accurate, and honest. As an adverb, straight means directly or in a straight line.

The noun strait refers to a narrow waterway. The plural form, straits, means difficulty or distress.


Examples

  • Ben's nose wasn't quite straight, and there was also something a little lopsided about his mouth.
     
  • "And NOW,” giggled Gertrude, “The next thing to do
    Is to fly right straight home and show Lolla-Lee-Lou!"
    (Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, 1958)

     
  • "A black cat approached from the other side of the street. For a while, it stood on the edge of the sidewalk and its green eyes looked straight at Bessie. Then slowly and cautiously it drew near."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970)
     
  • "She hoped he would tell this straight and plain, and not say unnecessary things that would just make things harder for Minnie Foster."
    (Susan Glaspell, "A Jury of Her Peers." Every Week, 1917)
     
  • Taking a steam launch, we crossed the strait at an early hour to catch the express train for Yokohama.
     
  • I could never ask a relative for money unless I were in hopeless straits.


Usage Notes

  • "The adjective strait, when meaning 'tight, confining,' is often misspelled straight in two familiar compounds. A straitjacket (not a straightjacket) is a jacket that confines the arms. Similarly, the adjective straitlaced (not straightlaced) originally meant ' having the laces of one's clothing drawn tightly,' but nowadays is more often used in a metaphorical sense, 'excessively strict in behavior, morality, or opinions.'"
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
  • "The confusion of strait and straight is about five centuries old, and it's time to get it straightened out. Strait is from the Latin stringere, 'to bind'; straight is from the Middle English strecchen, 'to stretch.'

    "In the King James Bible in 1611, the reader was adjured to reject the wide gate of destruction, 'Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life . . ..' Unfortunately, this led in an 1842 hymn straight to straight and narrow, leaving meaning and all distinction in dire straits. The Oxford English Dictionary still holds to strait and narrow, but that's not the phrase in current use; is is straight and narrow, with the first word not meaning 'tightly bounded' but being the antonym of crooked."
    (William Safire, Coming to Terms. Doubleday, 1991)


    Idiom Alerts

    • Keeping a Straight Face
      The expression keep a straight face means to maintain a blank or serious expression, especially when trying not to laugh'
      "The entire time I was talking to her, she kept grinning at me. Sometimes the grin turned into full-fledged laughter, and soon I was having a hard time keeping a straight face myself." 
      (Cindi Rigsbee, Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make. Jossey-Bass, 2010)
       
    • Straight Talk
      The expression straight talk refers to speech that is plain, direct, and honest.
      "[Judge Judy]  is the aunt I always wanted to have. You tell her things you don’t tell your own mother, and then she gives you straight talk with the answer."
      (Wendy Williams quoted by Nolan Feeney in "Wendy Williams Explains What Celebrities Can Learn From Kim Kardashian." Time, January 30, 2015)
       
    • Setting the Record Straight
      The expression set the record straight means to correct a misunderstanding or offer an accurate version of events that have been incorrectly reported.
      "Have you heard about the guy who found the dead mouse in his Coke? It's time to set the record straight about this piece of Cokelore."
      (Jan Harold Brunvand, Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends. Norton, 2011) 
       
    • In Dire Straits
      The phrase in dire straits refers to a very serious, difficult, or dangerous situation.
      "Greece finds itself in dire straits. Greek women are still beautiful, the food is rich, snow-covered mountains reach into a blue sky—yet, there is a sense of despair and depression, many people want to get out, and the brain drain is swelling."
      (Jürgen G. Backhaus, Great Nations in Peril. Springer, 2015) 
       


    Practice

    1. "Toward evening, on a long _____ stretch of road, he slowed down for some hitch-hikers."
      (Eudora Welty, "The Hitch-Hikers." The Southern Review, 1940) 
       
    2. "In February, the giant Rock of Gibraltar reared up as they crossed the _____, passing the small mountain at the tip of southern Europe that juts out toward Africa."
      (Rebecca Loncraine, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum. Gotahm Books, 2009)
       
    1. Any rational person who would sign a contract for indentured service must be in desperate _____.
       
    2. "The staircase was _____, and very long, but eventually they reached the end of it. Another door. Fezzik gave it a push. It opened."
      (William Goldman, The Princess Bride, 1973) 

       

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs​

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Straight and Strait

    1. "Toward evening, on a long straight stretch of road, he slowed down for some hitch-hikers."
      (Eudora Welty, "The Hitch-Hikers." The Southern Review, 1940) 
    2. "In February, the giant Rock of Gibraltar reared up as they crossed the strait, passing the small mountain at the tip of southern Europe that juts out toward Africa."
      (Rebecca Loncraine, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum. Gotahm Books, 2009)
    1. Any rational person who would sign a contract for indentured service must be in desperate straits.
       
    2. "The staircase was straight, and very long, but eventually they reached the end of it. Another door. Fezzik gave it a push. It opened."
      (William Goldman, The Princess Bride, 1973) 
       

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Straight and Strait." ThoughtCo, Nov. 7, 2016, thoughtco.com/straight-and-strait-1689499. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, November 7). Straight and Strait. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/straight-and-strait-1689499 Nordquist, Richard. "Straight and Strait." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/straight-and-strait-1689499 (accessed November 21, 2017).