Vice and Vise

Commonly Confused Words

vice and vise
Don Hoeferkamp, A Lighthearted Book of Common Errors (Trafford, 2011). (Getty Images)

American English makes a distinction between vice (moral depravity) and vise (a tool). However, that distinction is not made in British English, where vice is used for both senses.

Definitions

The noun vice means an immoral or undesirable practice. In titles (such as vice president), vice means one who acts in the place of another. The expression vice versa means conversely or the other way around.

In American English, the noun vise refers to a gripping or clamping tool.

As a verb, vise means to force, hold, or squeeze as if with a vise. In both cases the British spelling is vice.

See also:

Also see the usage notes below.


Examples

  • "In those days the worst vice in England was pride, I guess—the worst vice of all, because folks thought it was a virtue."
    (Carol Ryrie Brink, Caddie Woodlawn, 1936)
     
  • The vice president acted as an intermediary to resolve disputes involving two or more agencies.
     
  • "Animals breathe in what animals breathe out, and vice versa."
    (Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle, 1963)
     
  • American usage
    "He went to the end of the tool bench and cranked open the vise, then slipped a small piece of sheet metal in and clamped the vise tight."
    (Trent Reedy, Stealing Air, 2012)
     
  • American usage
    "Sometimes Rupert defined things in a new way—love grips you like a vise, then caresses you like a silk scarf, then bangs you on the head like an anvil."
    (Sabina Murray, A Carnivore's Inquiry, 2004)
     
  • British usage
    "
    After softening a horn by boiling it in water, he flattens it in a vice before taking his razor-sharp penknife to carve a pheasant, fox, leaping salmon or ram’s head as decoration."
    (Tony Greenbank, "Master of the Crookmaker’s Craft." The Guardian [UK]., May 4, 2015)

     
  • British usage
    "I had caught her in my arms, and the sting and torment of my remorse had closed them round her like a vice."
    (Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, 1859)

     

    Usage Notes
     

    • "In American English, a vice is an immoral habit or practice, and a vise is a tool with closable jaws for clamping things. But in British English, the tool is spelled like the sin: vice."
      (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2016)
    • The Lighter Side
      "Warren County deputies were called to investigate a shooting in Lake Luzerne, New York, on the evening of May 12, 2007. When they arrived, they found the victim, Damion Mosher, had sustained a wound in his abdomen from a 22-caliber bullet. Even though the deputies weren't from the vice squad, they quickly discovered that the perpetrator was . . . a vise. Mosher had been discharging the bullets by clamping them in a steel vise, putting a screwdriver on the primer, and striking the screwdriver with a hammer so he could sell the brass shell casings for scrap (which goes for $1.70 a pound). Mosher was on his nearly hundredth bullet when he lost the final round to a round."
      (Leland Gregory, Cruel and Unusual Idiots: Chronicles of Meanness and Stupidity. Andrews McMeel, 2008)


    Practice

    (a) "The problem with a lot of people is that what they think is a virtue is actually a _____ in disguise."
    (Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, 2012)

    (b) "Migraines, the bane of my life, surged up; my head felt as if it were clamped in a powerful _____."
    (Maud Fontenoy, Challenging the Pacific: The First Woman to Row the Kon-Tiki Route, 2005)

    (c) "What used to happen in fashion was that the pendulum would swing: if there'd been short hair for a while, then it would go long, and _____ versa."
    (Sam McKnight, "Kate Moss' Hair Stylist: 'British People Wear Their Hair as a Tribal Badge.'" The Guardian [UK], September 15, 2016)
     

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to Practice Exercises: vice and vise.

    (a) "The problem with a lot of people is that what they think is a virtue is actually a vice in disguise."
    (Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, 2012)

    (b) "Migraines, the bane of my life, surged up; my head felt as if it were clamped in a powerful (vise [US] or vice [UK])."
    (Maud Fontenoy, Challenging the Pacific: The First Woman to Row the Kon-Tiki Route, 2005)

    (c) "What used to happen in fashion was that the pendulum would swing: if there'd been short hair for a while, then it would go long, and vice versa."
    (Sam McKnight, "Kate Moss' Hair Stylist: 'British People Wear Their Hair as a Tribal Badge.'" The Guardian [UK], September 15, 2016)

     

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words