Commonly Confused Words: Track and Tract

And How to Properly Use Them

track and tract
A new tract of homes in Santa Rosa, California. George Rose/Getty Images

The words track and tract are near-homophones: they sound similar but have different meanings.

Definitions

As a noun, track means a literal or figurative path, route, or course. The noun track also refers to a mark left on the ground by a moving person, animal, or vehicle. As a verb, track means to travel, pursue, or follow.

The noun tract has a number of meanings: an expanse of land or water, a housing development, a pamphlet containing a declaration or appeal, and a system of organs and tissues in the body.

(Common tracts in the human body include the digestive tract, the intestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and the urinal tract.)

Examples

  • Tarmac gave way to a dirt track in the village of Jowai.
  • "In former years, Bessie used to answer letters, deposit her checks, keep track of her income and expenses. Lately, she had neglected it all."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." The New Yorker, 1970)
  • "Nobody wants to live in a 'housing tract,' a 'housing estate' or a 'housing project.' They are especially disliked by the planners and designers who make such places, and who are slightly to blame for their repetitious horror."
    (Tom Turner, City as Landscape: A Post Post-Modern View of Design and Planning. Chapman & Hall, 1996)
  • The diver reached between the jaws of the shark to dislodge a grappling hook that was stuck in the animal's digestive tract.
  • In 1774, Thomas Jefferson wrote his first tract on politics, a set of instructions for the Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress.
     

    Usage Notes

    • "[Track and tract] are sometimes confused, because the voiceless consonants at the end are sometimes hard to distinguish in continuous speech."
      (Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press, 1993)
    • "Tracking is the gerund of the verb track and means to follow a particular course, as in the transitive — 'meteorologists are tracking the storm' — as well as intransitive use — 'the storm is tracking across the ground at thirty miles an hour.' Track means to 'follow the traces of' and is associated etymologically with tract, which comes from the Latin root trahere, the past participle of tractus, the action of drawing (along) and act of drawing."
      (Kyna Leski, The Storm of Creativity: A Storm's Eye View. The MIT Press, 2015)

      Practice

      (a) He bought a _____ of land in northeastern Tennessee.

      (b) Governments have to look at a range of options to get their economies back on _____ after a recession.

      (c) "Our intestinal _____ are full of 'friendly bacteria' whose job is to help us digest our food and to combat the unfriendly bacteria that cause disease."
      (Ann Louise Gittleman, The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet. Morgan Road Books, 2005)

      Scroll down for answers below.

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

      Answers to Practice Exercises

      (a) He bought a tract of land in northeastern Tennessee.

      (b) Governments have to look at a range of options to get their economies back on track after a recession.

      (c) "Our intestinal tracts are full of 'friendly bacteria' whose job is to help us digest our food and to combat the unfriendly bacteria that cause disease."
      (Ann Louise Gittleman, The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet. Morgan Road Books, 2005)

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      Your Citation
      Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Track and Tract." ThoughtCo, Sep. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/track-and-tract-1689513. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, September 25). Commonly Confused Words: Track and Tract. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/track-and-tract-1689513 Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Track and Tract." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/track-and-tract-1689513 (accessed November 18, 2017).