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  • C'est la vie= "That's the way it goes." French for that's the life.
  • Cacao vs. cocoaCacao = the tree from which chocolate is derived, as well as unprocessed elements of the tree. Cocoa = elements of the tree that have been processed to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate, or related products.
  • Cache vs. cachetCache = a hiding place or a concealed collection. Cachet = prestige or a mark of prestige.
  • Cacti vs. cactusesBoth plurals are widely used.
  • Caddie vs. caddyCaddie = a golfer's attendant. Caddy = a container used for holding key. But the second is an accepted variant of the first.
  • Caesarean section, Caesarian, cesarean, etc.In general usage, Caesarean is the usual spelling (capitalized in North America, uncapitalized everywhere else). In medical usage, cesarean is the standard form.
  • CahootsTo be in cahoots is to share a partnership or to work together toward a common goal.
  • Caliber vs. calibreCaliber in the U.S.; calibre elsewhere.
  • Callous vs. callusCallus is a noun referring to a localized thickening of the skin and a verb for the formation of such thickenings. Callused means "having many calluses." Callous is figurative; it's an adjective meaning "toughened" and a verb meaning "to make callous."
  • Calumny
  • Calvary vs. cavalryCalvary is the hill where Jesus was crucified, and it has metaphorical extensions extending from that. A cavalry is a mobile military unit.
  • Calves vs. calfsCalves is the plural for all senses.
  • Canard= a false story.
  • Canary in the coalmine= a normally unprophetic thing that becomes prophetic and serves as an early warning sign of danger.
  • Canceled vs. cancelledcanceled and canceling in the U.S.; cancelled and cancelling everywhere else.
  • Canon vs. cannonCanon = (1) a code of laws, (2) an established principle, (3) a group of exemplary literary works, and (4) the works of a writer that are accepted as authentic. Cannon = a large weapon that fires heavy projectiles.
  • Canvas vs. canvassCanvas = a heavy fabric. Canvass = (1) to examine carefully or discuss thoroughly, (2) to go through an area to solicit votes, and (3) to conduct a survey.
  • Capiche, capeesh, capische, etcCapiche is the standard spelling.
  • Capital vs. capitolCapital = (1) a city that serves as a center of government; (2) wealth; (3) a capital letter; (4) principal; (5) involving financial assets; (6) deserving of the death penalty. A capitol is a U.S. legislature building.
  • Card shark vs. card sharpCard shark is preferred in North America and Australia. Card sharp is more common in the U.K.
  • Careen vs. careerCareen = to move fast in an uncontrolled way. Career = to move at full speed, especially in an uncontrolled way. This new sense of "careen" bothers some people, as it has fairly recently supplanted older senses.
  • Carrot, carat, karat, caret
  • Carrot-and-stick
  • Carte blanche= (1) full discretionary authority, or (2) total freedom to act.
  • Casted= casted has gained ground in performing arts and fishing, but many people still consider it wrong.
  • Catachresis= an intentionally mixed metaphor or strained figure.
  • Catalog vs. cataloguecatalog in the U.S.; catalogue everywhere else.
  • Catch-22= a situation in which paradoxical rules make a desired outcome impossible to achieve.
  • Catty-corner, kitty-corner= positioned diagonally across from (something).
  • Cause celebre
  • Caveat= originally a warning, now a qualification.
  • Cede vs. concedeCede = to surrender possession of. Concede = (1) to acknowledge something as true or correct, (2) to admit defeat, and (3) to yield or allow something.
  • Center vs. centreCenter in the U.S.; centre everywhere else.
  • Centrifugal vs. centripetalCentrifugal = toward a center. Centripetal = away from a center.
  • Centrifuge vs. subterfugeCentrifuge = a rotating machine that separates substances. Subterfuge = a stratagem used to evade or conceal.
  • Centuries
  • Certainty vs. certitudeThere is little difference, but certainty involves factuality while certitude is a feeling that does not necessarily involve factuality.
  • Certifiable
  • Cession vs. sessionCession = the act of surrendering something. Session = a period of time for a specific activity.
  • Chafe vs. chaffChafe: to irritate by rubbing. Chaff: 1. husks of corn or grain separated by threshing; 2. straw or hay fed to cattle; 3. worthless or leftover matter.
  • Chalk up vs. chock
  • Champing at the bit vs. chomping at the bitBoth forms are common and widely accepted. Champing at the big is the original, but chomping at the bit is now more common.
  • Chasten vs. chastiseChastisement is harsher and often involves physical punishment. Chastening is gentler.
  • Chav
  • Check in vs. check-in (vs. checkin)The verb is two words, unhyphenated. As a noun and an adjective, it's hyphenated.
  • Check up vs. checkupCheckup is a noun. The verb is two words.
  • Check vs. chequeFor a written bank order, check is the U.S. spelling; cheque is preferred everywhere else. Check is used everywhere for senses unrelated to banking.
  • Checkout vs. check outCheckout is a noun and an adjective. The verb is two words.
  • Cheek by jowlvery close together.
  • Cherry-pick= to choose only the best items.
  • Chic vs. sheikChic = stylish. Sheik = an Islamic official.
  • Childcare, child care, child-careIn the U.S., it's two words when it's a noun and hyphenated when it's an adjective. In British English, the one-word form has caught on for all uses.
  • Childish vs. childlikeChildish is negative. Childlike is neutral or positive.
  • Chili vs. chillyChili is a hot pepper. Chilly is an adjective meaning cold enough to cause chill.
  • Chink vs. kinkChink = a small opening. Kink = (1) a tight curl in rope or wire, (2) a painful muscle spasm, (3) a flaw in a plan, and (4) an unusual sexual taste or behavior.
  • Chips vs. fries
  • Chock-full= full to the limit. Chalk-full is a misspelling.
  • Chopper vs. copterBoth are commonly used as abbreviations of helicopter. Chopper is currently more common.
  • Chute vs. shootChute: 1. a trough, tube, or channel; 2. a waterfall; 3. a parachute. Shoot does not bear any of these senses.
  • Civic vs. civil
  • Civilise vs. civilize
  • Claptrap
  • Classic vs. classicalClassical = refers primarily to Ancient Greece and Rome and to orchestral music of the 18th and 19th centuries. Classic = (1) of lasting significance or worth, (2) typical, and (3) adhering to established standards of elegance or restraint.
  • Clauses
  • Clean vs. cleanseClean = to literally remove dirt, filth, or stains from. Cleanse = to figuratively clean.
  • Cleanup vs. clean upCleanup is a noun and an adjective. British writers often spell it with a hyphen. The verb is clean up.
  • Cleave
  • Clench vs. clinchClench = (1) to close tightly, and (2) to grasp or grip tightly. Clinch = to settle conclusively.
  • Client vs. customerClient = someone who engages the services of a professional. Customer = someone who buys or considers buying from a business.
  • Cliffs NotesCliffs notes = in figurative sense, a short summary of something. Also an adjective describing summary versions.
  • Climactic vs. climaticClimatic = of or relating to climax. Climactic = of or relating to climate.
  • Close rhyme= rhymes that are close together.
  • Close-minded vs. closed-mindedClosed-minded is the more logical spelling, but close-minded is more common in popular usage.
  • Cloth vs clothes
  • Co-op vs. co-optCo-op = a cooperative. Co-opt = to take for one's own use.
  • Coarse vs. courseCoarse: 1. of low quality; 2. lacking refinement or vulgar; 3. rough in texture or composed of large particles. Course has many definitions relating to paths, durations, academic classes, gold playing fields, and meals. It's also a verb meaning to move along a course.
  • Coliseum vs. colosseumColiseum is now the preferred spelling throughout the English-speaking world.
  • Collectible vs collectable
  • Collective nouns
  • College vs. universityThey are generally used interchangeably in the U.S., while usage varies elsewhere.
  • Collegial vs. collegiateCollegial = (1) characterized by colleagues, (2) cooperative. Collegiate = of or relating to college.
  • Colon
  • Color vs. colourColor in the U.S.; colour everywhere else.
  • ComedienneThe word persists despite that most people in comedy, including female comedians, don't use it.
  • Comic vs. comicalComic describes things of or relating to comedy. Comical is a synonym of funny.
  • Commas
  • Comme ci, comme ça
  • Commentator vs. commenterA commenter is someone who makes isolated comments. A commentator is someone who provides commentary---i.e., a series of remarks, explanations, and interpretations.
  • Common French expressions
  • Compel vs. impelA person who is impelled has at least some choice in whether to act. A person who is compelled doesn't have a choice.
  • Complacent vs. complaisantComplacent = self-satisfied, smug, or contented to a fault. Complaisant = cheerfully obliging or tending to go along with others.
  • Complement vs. complimentTo complement is to complete something, supplement it, enhance it, or bring it to perfection. To compliment is to give praise.
  • Compose vs. compriseParts compose the whole. The whole comprises the parts. Nothing is comprised of anything---though such constructions are widely used and must be accepted.
  • Concave vs. convexA concave surface curves inward. A convex surface curves outward.
  • Conceive vs. perceive
  • ConcerningIt peeves people in the sense worrying, but it's a perfectly good word.
  • Concertedplanned or accomplished together.
  • Conches vs. conchsThe plural depends on how you pronounce it. If it ends with a k sound, the plural is conchs. If it ends with a ch sound, the plural is conches.
  • Condemn vs. condoneTo condemn is to express strong disapproval. To condone is to overlook or forgive.
  • Confidant vs. confidanteConfidant refers to both males and females. The gendered confidante is unnecessary.
  • Conflict of interest
  • Conjunctions
  • Conjunctions to start sentencesThere is no rule against it. It's common, and has been for centuries, in all types of writing.
  • ConnexionIt appeared fairly often as recently as the middle 20th century, but it is now considered archaic. Connection is the standard spelling.
  • Connote vs. denoteTo denote is to say something directly or literally. To connote is to suggest or imply something in addition to a literal meaning.
  • Consultative
  • Contemporaneous vs. contemporaryBoth describe things that exist or happen at the time, but contemporary more often describes people or groups while contemporaneous more often describes events, movements, and trends.
  • Contemptible vs. contemptuousContemptible = worthy of contempt. Contemptuous = showing contempt.
  • Content or contented
  • Continual vs. continuousContinuous = happening ceaselessly. Continual = happening regularly or recurring intermittently.
  • Contractions
  • Contumely= a noun meaning (1) arrogant contempt, or (2) an arrogant act or scornful insult.
  • ConversateFormed by backformation from conversation, it always bears replacement with the shorter and older converse.
  • Cooperate vs. co-operateCooperate in the U.S.; co-operate everywhere else.
  • Coordinate adjectivesadjectives that modify the same noun and do not modify each other.
  • Copyright vs. copywriteCopyright = a creator's exclusive legal right to his or her work. Copywrite = rare backformation from copywriter, which refers to a person who writes copy.
  • Coral vs. corralCoral = undersea deposits and the animals that make them. Corral = an enclosure for confining livestock (plus related verb senses).
  • Cord vs. chordCord = (1) a string or rope, (2) an electrical cable, (3) a measure of wood equal to 128 cubic feet, (4) a ribbed fabric (short for corduroy), and (5) one of several types of cords found within the bodies of animals. Chord = a combination of three or more musical pitches (plus rare uses in geometry and science).
  • Cornet vs. coronetCornet = a small trumpet. Coronet = a small crown or the upper margin of a horse's hoof.
  • Corollary vs. correlationCorollary = an obvious deduction, a natural consequence, or a proposition that follows with little or no proof from one already proven. Correlation = a complementary or parallel relationship between two things, not necessarily involving causation or a direct relationship.
  • Cosmetology vs. cosmologyCosmetology = the study of cosmetics and their use. Cosmology = the study of the cosmos.
  • CostedCost is uninflected when it means to be priced at or to cause loss or expenditure. It is inflected costed when it means determine the cost of or set the cost of.
  • Cosy vs. cozyCozy in U.S. and usually in Canada; cosy outside North America.
  • Could care lessCould care less is now an established idiom in the U.S., though it still faces resistance, and it has by no means supplanted couldn't care less.
  • Council vs. counselCouncil = an assembly of people brought together for discussion or deliberation. Counsel = to advise (plus related noun senses).
  • Counselor vs. counsellorCounselor in the U.S.; counsellor everywhere else.
  • Coup de grace= a strong finishing stroke or a decisive way of ending something
  • Cover all the bases= (1) to prepare for every possibility, (2) to give attention to every aspect of a situation or problem, or (3) to inform (someone) of all matters at hand.
  • Crack down vs. crackdownCrackdown (noun): an official effort to forcefully repress or restrain something. Crack down (verb): to commit a crackdown.
  • CrapInformal but highly versatile.
  • Crapshoot= a situation whose outcome is not predictable.
  • Crayfish, crawfish, crawdad, etc.Dialectal variants referring to the same group of animals.
  • Cream of the crop= the best part of a batch.
  • Credible vs. credulousCredible = believable. Credulous = willing to believe.
  • Creeped vs. creptCrept is the preferred inflection except where creep comes in the phrasal verb creep out, meaning to strike [someone] as weird in a frightening or off-putting way.
  • Crevasse vs. creviceCrevice = a narrow crack. Crevasse = a large fissure.
  • Crick (variant of creek)a dialectal variant of creek.
  • Crier vs. cryerCrier is far more common. They mean the same.
  • Criteria, criterionCriteria is becoming singular, and criterion is disappearing from English, but we are still early in the process and the more traditional forms remain safer in formal writing.
  • Crumby vs. crummyCrummy means shabbymiserable. Crumby means (1) full of or covered in crumbs, and (2) tending to break into crumbs. Mixing them up is not a serious error, though.
  • Cue vs. queueCue = (1) a signal prompting an event or action, especially in a performance; and (2) the long stick used to strike the cue ball in billiards and pool. Queue = a line.
  • Cum= plus or along with being, usually in phrases like doctor-cum-writer (i.e., a doctor who is also a writer).
  • Curb vs. kerbFor the feature dividing streets from sidewalks, curb is the preferred spelling in the U.S. and Canada, and kerb is preferred outside North America. But everyone uses curb as the word meaning (1) to check or restrain, and (2) a check or restraint.
  • CurrentlyOften adds nothing.
  • Customise vs. customizeAmerican and Canadian English: customize, customized, customizing, customization, etc. Outside North America: customise, customised, customising, customisation, etc.
  • Cut and dried= (1) prepared and arranged in advance; (2) ordinary or routine. No hyphens required.
  • Cut off your nose to spite your face
  • Cut to the chase= get to the point.
  • Cutesy= deliberately and cloyingly cute.
  • Cyclist vs. bikerA cyclist (or bicyclist) is someone who rides a bicycle. A biker is someone who rides a motorcycle.
  • Site vs cite

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