New Word #79: Confusing Word Pairs

Image by Anna Zielińska from Pixabay

Read has nothing to do with ready, and test has nothing to do with testy. We can tell these pairs apart easily. However there are some pairs that are difficult for non-native speakers like me to distinguish one from the other. No matter how many times I learn to tell them apart, the next encounter is still going to be confusion all over again. To these words, I am like those people who never learn, you know, those who will fall for a bad relationship no matter how many bad relationships (the same kind) they have already been through.

Here I am listing these words out. Still, probably I will still have the problem next time I see them, but the process of listing them makes me feel good, as if I’ve achieved something, as if by pointing them out I have solved the problem even if I haven’t.

Board, Broad, Aboard, Abroad,

These four words look very easy, but every time I see them, I have to pause a moment to ask myself, “Am I seeing what I see? Am I making a mistake?” A sentence that can include all four words is like this: The board members are on the broad staircase, trying to climb aboard the ship to go abroad.

Vindicate and Vindictive

This pair is also in my forever confusion list. Whenever I hear “he is vindicated” in a crime drama, I would ask myself if this person is being cleared of a suspicion or this person is very vengeful. And often in a crime drama, the two words appear more frequently than under other circumstances.

vindicate: clear (someone) of blame or suspicion. show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified

vindictive: having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge.

Sanction and Sanctity

When I first learned the word “sanction”, I was completely confused since the word means both disapproval and approval. How can this be possible? Many years later, I finally realized what this word means when I was reading a book that says, “I cannot love somebody in a cage–meaning love has to be free and a person cannot love when she is under sanction.” Here the meaning of sanction is very clear–it means both disapproval and approval by an authority in real existence or in imaginary existence. When the authority is in imaginary existence, we basically sanction ourselves.

sanction: 1. a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule. 2. official permission or approval for an action.

sanctity: the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly.

Overlook and Oversee

The two words are similar, but the meaning is very different.

overlook: fail to notice

oversee: supervise (a person or work), especially in an official capacity.

Stamp and Stampede

stamp: bring down (one’s foot) heavily on the ground or on something on the ground.

stampede: a sudden panicked rush of a number of horses, cattle, or other animals.

Prerogative and Pejorative

prerogative: An exclusive right or privilege held by a person or group, especially a hereditary or official right.

pejorative: expressing contempt or disapproval.

28 thoughts on “New Word #79: Confusing Word Pairs

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