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Spot the difference

Spot the difference
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The English language has many confusing words. For instance, stationary is different from stationery. Here is A a list of few such words Some...

spot3 The English language has many confusing words. For instance, stationary is different from stationery. Here is A a list of few such words spot2Some time ago I conducted a diagnostic test to assess the English language skills of the employees of a well-known finance company. Interestingly, I could get some idea of their proficiency even before I looked at their answer scripts! All candidates were asked to provide basic information about themselves before starting the test. The third question on that datasheet, after 'Name' and 'Date of Birth', was 'Sex'. Many of them answered it with: 'Mail'! Obviously, 'Mail' was confused with 'Male'. There are several such 'commonly confused words' and it helps to understand the difference�in spelling, meaning and usage�between them to avoid social embarrassment. For instance, I often come across applications where the writer expresses her/his 'greatfullness' instead of 'gratefulness'. Similarly, I have seen several 'stationery' shops advertising themselves as 'stationary' shops. I have recently visited a travel website which offers to book 'Two Tire and Three Tire' railway tickets. I, of course, did not take that website's offer because I wanted 'Two Tier or Three Tier' tickets and didn't want to be 'Tired' during my journey! On another occasion, I also did not trust a hotel which served 'Deserts' after a meal instead of 'Desserts'. If it is just an occasional slip�of the tongue, the pen, or the keyboard�then such errors are not a major cause for worry. But sometimes people use 'big' words, often unnecessarily and wrongly, either because those words sound impressive or are mistaken to be more fashionable alternatives. For instance, it is quite common to hear executives promising to 'revert back' to you after 'discussing about' the matter. They seem blissfully unaware that you only 'revert' and 'discuss' because 'revert' itself means 'to go back' and to 'discuss' is to 'talk about'. My favourite example, however, is the use of 'improvise' for 'improve'. Whenever I point out mistakes in a draft, the writer immediately assures me that he/she will 'improvise' the copy before submitting it. My heart sinks whenever I am given such an assurance because I know for sure that the final version is not going to be any better than the earlier one. Sometimes people use unfamiliar words by simply guessing their meaning. I was once advised by a well-wisher to keep away from a person who was described as a 'famous troubleshooter'. It did not make any sense to me till I realised that the person referred to was a 'notorious troublemaker'. It was, what one might call, a 'double whammy' because both 'famous' and 'trouble shooter' have exactly the opposite meaning of the intended words 'notorious' and 'troublemaker'. Similarly, a neo-rich businessman recently showed off his newly acquired, white-coloured SUV introducing it to me as his 'latest white elephant'. I was quite touched by his honesty and candour only to realise later that what he said might be true but certainly not what he intended to say. People who are fond of using idioms at times give them a little twist to add a personal touch and emphasis. They do not seem overly constrained by the rules of language which forbids such modifications to idioms. For instance, while at the 'eleventh hour' is a familiar phrase to mean at 'the last minute', a friend of mine insists on using 'at the twelfth hour', which makes it more dramatic, though less acceptable. Sometimes, it is not individuals but an entire cultural context that gives a new meaning, usage, and legitimacy to words. For instance, using 'pre-pone' as the opposite of 'postpone' is an entirely Indian practice, while 'advance' is what others would use. Similarly, we often refer to any big meal�a feast, a banquet, a ceremonial meal etc�as 'dinner' irrespective of the time of the day at which it is hosted. Also, we routinely use words like 'money purse', 'floor carpets' etc without realising the redundancy, as 'purse' is always for carrying money and 'carpets' always cover the floors. But then, it is English as it is used and understood in India. Who can dictate rules to a one-billion strong country?
Following are some Commonly Confused Words. Consult a dictionary and find out the exact meaning and usage of these words. Try and make sentences of your own with these words to understand the difference (in meaning and usage) between them.
  • Break-Brake
  • Die-Dye
  • Great-Grate
  • Heir�Hare�Hair
  • Plain�Plane
  • Story-Storey
  • Stationary�Stationery
  • Tail-Tale
  • Tier-Tire-Tyre
  • Week-Weak
  • Mail-Male
  • Desert-Dessert
  • Improve-Improvise
  • Famous-Notorious
  • Troublemaker-Troubleshooter
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