Clef vs cliff

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Clef and cliff are two words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables clef and cliff, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

A clef is a musical symbol located at the beginning of a staff of notes that shows the pitch of the written notes. Modern music uses the G-clef, often called the treble clef, the F-clef, often called the base clef or the baritone clef, and C-clef, also known as the alto clef or the viola clef. Using different clefs in written music makes it possible to visually render musical compositions for all instruments. The word clef is derived from the Latin word, clavis, meaning key. The plural of clef is clefs.

A cliff is an area of high ground that has a steep or sheer face. A cliff may be in a mountainous region or may be located at the edge of the sea or other body of water. The word cliff is derived from the Old High German word, klep, which means steep promontory. The plural form of cliff is cliffs.


“And the piano was a great introduction to reading treble and bass clef.” (Mail Tribune)

On Saturday morning, the cover will be taken off what organizers are calling “the largest treble clef in the world.” (Global News)

A 45-year-old woman hiking on a popular coastal trail in the San Francisco Bay area died after she tripped and fell off a cliff, authorities said. (USA Today)

The government said Yevgeny Zinichev, a longtime Putin aide responsible for emergency situations, dived off a cliff to save a film director who fell into the water. (New York Times)