Penance vs pittance

Penance and pittance 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 penance and pittance, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

Penance is reparation for a transgression; it is punishment or a discipline one imposes on oneself to repent of wrongdoing. Penance is a sacrament in the Christian church where a penitent confesses sins to a priest and the priest grants absolution, in exchange for reparation. The word penance is derived from the Latin word, paenitentia, which means repentance.

A pittance is a trivial amount of money; a pittance is insufficient. The word pittance is derived from the Latin word, pietas, meaning pity.


Senior members of France’s Roman Catholic hierarchy knelt in a show of penance at the shrine of Lourdes on Saturday, a day after bishops accepted the church’s responsibility for decades of child abuse. (Guardian)

A day after praising West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for rising as the “face of Opposition” for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, BJP’s Tripura MLA Ashish Das Tuesday shaved his head and offered puja at Kolkata’s Kalighat Temple as a mark of penance and announced to give up his MLAship and leave the saffron party. (Indian Express)

While this is a high price compared with the recent past, it’s still a small pittance compared to the price of a full share of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) stock. (Winston-Salem Journal)

Zooming through the West Bank desert on their lawbreaking quest to transport desperate Palestinian workers across the border into Israel, the Bedouin drivers bravely dodge occupying forces day in and day out, risking serious jail time for a pittance. (Filmmaker Magazine)

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