Bough vs. bow

A bough (pronounced /bau/) is a main branch of a tree. Its homonym bow has several meanings including: to quit a competition, to bend the body in an act of submission or reverence, to acknowledge applause, or debut. Bow can be pronounced /bo/ and has an alternate meaning. It can be a tie of a ribbon, a weapon made to shoot arrows, or a rod strung with hair to play a stringed instrument. Examples There is an instinctive fear in all of us, probably dating back to primeaval times, when it … [Read more...]

Hairy vs. harry

Hairy can mean either being covered in hair, or causing fear or difficulty. The word has carried this dual meaning since the mid 19th century. To harry is to persistently attack or harass. It has been around since before the 12th century. Examples Probably the most obvious quirk about the driving dynamics of the FPVs was that the front-end tendency to bounce around a bit - all well and good when you're on a racetrack but a little hairy when the chosen track is a Coromandel back road. … [Read more...]

Gambol vs. gamble

To gambol is to playfully skip or frolic. It is spelled as gamboling and gamboled inside the US, and makes gambolling and gambolled outside the United States. To gamble is to bet money or take a risky action. It is spelled the same everywhere. Examples Silently we watch them gambol, two extraordinary creatures doing, for them, the ordinary. [The West Australian] Under Christopher Carter Sanderson’s direction, audiences will chase fairies, lovers and rude mechanicals as they gambol … [Read more...]

Shutter vs. shudder

A shutter is a panel attached to a window that can be closed for privacy. Also, it is the part of a camera that opens to expose light to the film. A person can shutter their windows by closing the shutters. To shudder is to shake or quake, usually as a result of fear or disgust. These words are homophones for some areas, including Southern US. Examples While neither company mentioned "Blackfish" as a contributing factor in terminating the relationship, a petition on urging … [Read more...]

Manner vs. manor

A manner is (1) a way of doing something, (2) a bearing or demeanor, and (3) a type. The plural form, manners, refers to a manner of behavior considered to be social correct. Constructions involving manner can often be shortened to single adverbs. For example, in a calm manner and in a public manner can give way to calmly and publicly. Some such phrases lack one-word equivalents, however---e.g., in a timely manner. A manor is (1) the estate of a European lord, or (2) the main house of a … [Read more...]

Aid vs. aide

An aide is an assistant or helper. The word always refers to a person. Aid is a noun referring to (1) assistance, or (2) something that assists (e.g., a hearing aid or a visual aid), and it's also a verb meaning to assist. Some dictionaries list aid as a variant of aide, but the words are generally kept separate in edited writing. Both words derive from closely related French sources, but they entered English at different times. Aid came to English in the 15th century (and had several … [Read more...]

Idle, idol, idyll

An idol is an object of worship. The word functions only as a noun. Idle has several definitions, including (1) inactive, (2) to pass time without doing work, (3) to run (a motor vehicle) while out of gear or not in motion, (4) to make inactive, and (5) a state of idling. It's usually an adjective, but senses two, three, and four make it a verb, and sense five makes it also a noun. There's also the rarer idyll, which refers to (1) a tranquil natural scene, (2) a carefree episode, and (3) a … [Read more...]

Borough, burro, burrow

A burro is a small donkey. Burrow means (1) a hole or tunnel, or (2) to dig a hole or tunnel. A third homophone is borough (sometimes shortened to boro in the U.S.), which is primarily a noun referring to administrative divisions within some towns, cities, and states. The words are homophones or nearly homophones in most parts of the English-speaking world, but they are otherwise unrelated. Burro, which is used primarily in the Western U.S., came to English from Spanish, where it is short for … [Read more...]

Coarse vs. course

Coarse is only an adjective. Its main senses in today's English are (1) of low quality, (2) lacking refinement or vulgar, and (3) rough in texture or composed of large particles. For example, a movie regarded as obscene or lowbrow might be called coarse, as might a person who speaks in a rude or off-color way. In the third sense, the adjective's applications are broad. Most commonly, it tends to describe rougher varieties of sand, asphalt, soil, and fabric. Course, which works only as a noun … [Read more...]

Vice vs. vise


In the U.S., the word for the clamping tool comprising two jaws closed and opened by a screw or lever is spelled vise. Outside American English, the vise spelling rarely appears. The gripping tool is instead spelled vice. This word of course has several other meanings in all varieties of English, including (1) immorality, and (2) an undesirable habit. For these senses, vice is so spelled even in the U.S. Although vise is now an American spelling, it is old. The word for the tool has origins … [Read more...]

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