Abscess vs obsess

Abscess and obsess are two words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. Confusables is a catch-all term for words that are often confused in usage. Two words or more than two words may be confused because they are similar in spelling, similar in pronunciation, or similar in meaning. These commonly confused words may be pronounced the same way or pronounced differently or may be spelled the same way or spelled differently, or may have different meanings or have almost different meanings; they may be homophones, homonyms, heteronyms, words that have a similar spelling, or words that have a similar meaning. Confusables often confound native speakers of English, and they may be difficult for ESL students and those learning English to understand. Confusables are misspelled, misused words and may be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or any other part of speech. Spelling rules in English are not dependable; there are many exceptions. Often, the best procedure for learning commonly misused words and commonly confused words in English is to make word lists of English words for the learner to study. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell and learn the definitions of words. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a confusable in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Confusables are often used in wordplay like puns. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables abscess and obsess, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

An abscess is a lump or swollen area on a human or animal that is inflamed, infected, and full of pus. The plural form is abscesses and the adjective form is abscessed. An abscess is often drained to promote healing; it may be cleaned to rid the area of infection. An abscess should never be ignored because the infection can spread throughout the organism. The word abscess is derived from the Latin word, abscessus, which means a departure, a reference to eliminating an infection.

Obsess means to think about unceasingly, to occupy one’s attention without pause, to worry about something unendingly. For instance, one may obsess about one’s finances, worrying about where one will obtain money to live on. One may obsess about a beautiful girl who sits beside him in class. It is not healthy to obsess about anything. Obsess is a verb; related words are obsesses, obsessed, obsessing, obsession. The word obsess is derived from the Latin word, obsessus, which means to besiege.


This is an abscess that is filled with puss and can be deadly as it can become so large that it can obstruct the airways, making it hard for you to breathe. (New York Post)

Hoof infection and subsequent abscesses may occur when bacteria in the environment penetrate the cracks. (Robesonian)

Americans hate ‘OK, boomer’ mocking, obsess over being ‘ghosted,’ poll about slang popularity claims (Seattle Times)

Britain is falling behind as US and Chinese markets forge ahead and fund managers obsess over dividends rather than growth. (Financial Times)

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