confusables (words)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Confusables is an informal term for two or more words that are easily confused with one another because of similarities in spelling (such as desert and dessert or personal and personnel), pronunciation (allusion and illusion, accidental and incidental, perspective and prospective), and/or meaning (imply and infer). Some are homonyms (spelled the same, but with different meanings) or homophones (fair and fare). Also spelled confusibles. Also called confusable words and confusing words.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "In English confusion can occur between words that are similar (e.g., junction and juncture, footer and footnote). Sometimes known as confusibles, these words have a similar sound and spelling and are linked in meaning. In more traditional linguistic terminology, a confusing word that is derived from another, or has the same root, is known as a paronym. As a further distinction, [Adrian] Room (1985) uses the label distinguishables for words that are unlike each other in sound or spelling but are closely related in meaning (e.g., mistake, error, and fault; magazine and journal). Essentially these are synonyms that are often used incorrectly."
    (A. Kukulska-Hulme, Language and Communication. Oxford University. Press, 1999)
  • "We heard the ocean is infatuated with sharks."
    (Stan Laurel, The Live Ghost, 1934)
  • "Obama is compelled to jump into unchartered territory . . ..
    Make it 'uncharted'--that is, not on any maps."
    (P. Corbett, "Words to Watch." The New York Times, Mar. 31, 2009)
  • Confusables From Richard Lederer
    "Once I opened the door to the room, she was in my arms, legs around my waste."
    "The driver of the car was sited for reckless driving."
    "On a Junior ROTC Web site: We Strive for Perfection, but We Except Excellence."
    "The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from a heroine overdose."
    (Quoted by Richard Lederer in The Revenge of Anguished English. St. Martin's Press, 2005)
  • Inflammable and Inflammatory
    "There are many words in the English language that can be confused quite easily with one another. And in broadcasting, where different spellings are irrelevant, words that sound very similar can mean very different things. In the BBC News Styleguide, John Allen calls these pairs of similar words 'confusables.' He quotes an example from a story on Radio Four:
    A boy of twelve is in intensive care in hospital after a group of teenagers doused him in inflammatory liquid and then threw a lighted match at him.
    The writer meant to use the word inflammable, capable of being set on fire, not inflammatory, tending to stir up trouble."
    (Rick Thompson, Writing for Journalists. Routledge, 2005)
  • Refudiate
    "The word refute was one of the most misused in the English language even before Sarah Palin came along.
    "Now the possible next president of the US has taken incorrect use of the verb to a new level by mangling it into a whole new word--refudiate.
    "At first she appeared embarrassed by the linguistic slip, but she later chose to celebrate her inventiveness by comparing herself to literary giants William Shakespeare and, er, George Bush.
    "Palin used the word in an interview with Fox News last week when she urged Barack and Michelle Obama to 'refudiate' suggestions that the right-wing Tea Party movement was racist."
    (Matthew Weaver, "Word of the Day: Sarah Palin Invents 'Refudiate.'" The Guardian, July 19, 2010)
  • Fearsome Foursomes
    "Confusing words can come in large families . . .. Consist, comprise, constitute and compose, for instance, are a fearsome foursome of words with similar forms and meanings. Everyday examples of tantalizingly similar yet different words are such quartets as giggle, snigger, snicker and titter."
    (Adrian Room, Dictionary of Confusable Words. Taylor, 2000)

Alternate Spellings: confusible

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "confusables (words)." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, September 9). confusables (words). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "confusables (words)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).