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Slideshow
Know These 9 Commonly Confused Pairs?
immanent
[im-uh-nuhnt]
Though these three words may sound exasperatingly similar, they have three very different meanings. When something is imminent, it is destined to happen e.g. "the imminent sunset." Eminent can refer to a person of high rank or repute: "an eminent king," or anything that noticeably pokes out like "an eminent nose." But when something is immanent, it is inherent or inborn. Will your immanent linguistic eminence shine through when you use these words correctly? Of course, it's imminent! Our next slide separates a verb from a noun. Do you know which is which?
wreathe
[reeth]
A wreath is a circular band of flowers or leaves that can be placed on a door or a head. (Think Christmas or Julius Caesar.) The word comes from the Old English wrioa meaning "band," and since that early origin, wreath has been a noun. To wreathe is to adorn something with a wreath or to encircle something the way a wreath does. Our next confusable is wreathed in mystery. Decode it on the next slide.
feint
[feynt]
We're all familiar with the verb to faint (to temporarily lose consciousness) and the adjective faint (lacking in brightness), but what is a feint? The word originated as a fencing term for a movement made in order to deceive an adversary. A feint is a false attack made to distract the opponent from an even more fatal blow. The word comes from the Old French feindre meaning "to feign" or "deceive." Whether you're standing still or writing up a storm, you've definitely encountered our next confusing pair.
stationery
[stey-shuh-ner-ee]
Stationary or stationery? They're just one letter off, but that pesky little "e" or "a" changes the meaning of these words entirely. Stationery is writing paper or writing materials such as pens, envelopes, and ink. The word is derived from the Middle Latin stationarius, "stationary seller." In the Middle Ages roving peddlers often sold writing supplies, moving their wares from "station" to "station." Switch that final "e" for an "a" and to be stationary is to be unmoving.
capitol
[kap-i-tl]
From a capital city to a capital letter, this word distinguishes the best and brightest. The word is derived from the Latin capitalis meaning "of the head," and between its noun and adjective forms capital has 17 senses in which it can be used. But when that last "a" becomes an "o" capitol gets much more specific. In the U.S. the Capitol is the building in Washington, D.C. used by Congress. The building was dubbed by Thomas Jefferson who derived the name from the Capitoline Hill, the seat of democracy in Ancient Rome.
altogether
[awl-tuh-geth-er, awl-tuh-geth-er]
Though they're both adverbs, altogether and all together have very different meanings. Altogether means "completely" or "entirely," synonymous with the phrase, "all things considered." The word is a variant of the Middle English altogeder, referring to "the whole." All together refers to a group of people or things that act collectively or at the same time, e.g. "Let's raise our glasses all together!"
tortuous
[tawr-choo-uhs]
Mixing up these words can have some very unpleasant results. When something is tortuous, it's full of twists and turns like a crooked path or a circuitous argument. The word comes from the Latin tortu meaning "a twisting." But the addition of an "r" turns this word into torture, with torturous pertaining to the cause or experience of extreme pain.
insolate
[in-soh-leyt]
Insolate and insulate are the hottest words on this maddening list. Insolate is derived from the Latin word insolare meaning "to place in the sun." In English the word refers to, you guessed it, an exposure to the sun's rays. Insulate involves using various materials to prevent the leakage of heat. Insolate to get warm and insulate to stay warm!
ensure
[en-shoor, -shur]
Insure and ensure are kindred souls in their etymology as both are derived from the Anglo-French ensurer or "to make sure." Ensure means "to secure or guarantee" as well as "to making something secure or safe from harm." Insure means about the same thing, "to guarantee against loss or harm" but insure often indicates an "insurance policy" or contract for which one pays to mend or replace the things they want to ensure... insure.

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