More of those trying English words

I recently wrote of the difficulties the English language poses with words that are similar, but have meanings that are so different. Since I do many a crossword puzzle, I come across words that remind me of this fact, but also encourage me to go find a dictionary. As I noted earlier, I like words that I actually might use or hear someone use in a conversation and am not too keen on words that only share how smart the speaker is or who would like to seem.

Here are a few more sets of words to ponder.

Divine and divine: The noun divine can mean godlike or sacred and it can also mean lovely or handsome. Yet, the verb divine means to surmise or guess the solution to a problem.

Seer, sere, sear: Homonyms anyone? Three similar words with different meanings. Seer is a prophet, while sere means dry or arid as in a desert. And, not to be outdone, sear means to char as in a steak.

Prescribe and proscribe: Another pairing where one letter changes the nature. Prescribe means to order, as in a doctor ordering a prescription. Proscribe means to forbid.

Vain, vane, vein: More homonyms. Vain conjures up a Carly Simon song meaning arrogant. Vane usually refers to a weather vane, but is a broad blade attached to a rotating axis. Vein of course is the vessel to return the blood to the heart, but could also mean a distinctive quality.

Prosaic and mosaic: The former is often confused with the latter, but prosaic means commonplace. Mosaic is not commonplace meaning artistic or painted glass placed into a stone setting.

Precede and proceed: They sound similar, but precede means to go before. Proceed means to begin. You should proceed, before someone precedes you.

That is enough confusion for one day. So, when Simon sings, “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” you will know how to spell it.


18 thoughts on “More of those trying English words

  1. These are great, and they trip up a lot of folks. One I’ve noticed a lot in obits lately is “proceeded in death” when what is meant is “preceded in death.” Funny. Sort of.

  2. A fun Saturday chuckle (even though you posted it on Thursday — I am, obviously, behind!). English words are fun to play with … the Brits think we have botched the language, and perhaps so … but for simplicity, give me Spanish any day!

    • Jill, other than counting, pleasantries and a few crossword clues, my Spanish is quite poor. Of course, my German is only a little better and I took it in high school. Keith

      • Spanish is infinitely easier than German, my friend … in fact, in my view it is the simplest of all languages to learn. But then, I was raised in a bi-lingual household and actually spoke Spanish before learning much English.

    • Alison so true. We watch a lot of British, Australian and Canadian TV shows, and the dialogue, the context and words are enjoyable. “Knackered” is rarely used here in the states, although it is a great word to define being worn out. Keith

  3. Pingback: Daily Kind Quote – Share Your Light

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