Differential vs deferential

Differential and deferential 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 misused or confused; there are many confusing words in the English language that may be easily confused for each other in spoken English and written English. Two words or more than two words, even if they are common 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, homographs, words that have a similar spelling, or words that have a similar meaning. Sometimes, confusables are word constructions that are not proper English words. 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 that have a different meaning from one another 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 to learn new words and commonly misused words and commonly confused words in English is to make word lists of English words for the learner to study to understand the difference in spelling and meaning. To learn new words in the English language, one must not only study a spelling words list, one must know the meaning of words in one’s vocabulary word list. It is also helpful to memorize how to correctly pronounce words and to know the etymology of new words or where they are derived from. 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 differential and deferential, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

Differential is an adjective that describes something that constitutes a distinction or shows a difference or variance. In mathematics, differential is used as a noun to mean the derivative or partial derivative of a function. Differential is also used as a noun to mean a drivetrain that allows wheels to revolve at different rates. The word differential is derived from the Latin word, differentia, which means different.

Deferential is an adjective that means being respectful or showing a high regard for someone by acquiescing to his or her opinion, ideas, or needs. For instance, one may be deferential to a respected, elderly relative, or one may deferential to the president of one’s company. The word deferential is derived from the French word, déférer, which means to comply.


Dr. James McCaffrey of Microsoft Research explains stochastic gradient descent (SGD) neural network training, specifically implementing a bio-inspired optimization technique called differential evolution optimization (DEO). (Visual Studio Magazine)

An electronically locking rear differential is standard no matter which of these trucks you choose, yet the ZR2 is the only one to offer a front locker as well. (Car and Driver Magazine)

It neatly reflected a genre stuck in time, one too skittish to evolve yet too deferential to its one-time importance to ever just throw in the towel. (Independent)

The Captain was consciously warm, the cricketer-turned-politician purposely deferential. (Hindustan Times)

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