Confusables are words that may sound similar, interchangeable in some contexts but not in others, or they are related in some way or they are words that are misused or just plainly misunderstood. They normally come in pairs, for instance, disburse and disperse. Two similar sounding words, although with two different meanings, the former means make payment and the latter scatter.

Here are some examples of confusables:

blond, blonde - A woman with light-coloured hair is blonde but a man is blond. The unisex adjective is blond; a blond race is a race of people with fair hair and a light complexion

dependant, dependent - The first is used only as a word for a person who depends on someone for support, usually financial. In all other cases dependent is needed

bathos, pathos -

bathos : ludicrous anticlimax by sudden descent from dignity or intensity to the commonplace, in speech, writing or a happening

pathos : quality (in art or an event) that creates feelings of pity or sadness

elegy, eulogy -

elegy : thoughtful or reflective poem. Any elegiac writing or music in mournful in tone

eulogy : an expression of praise in speech or writing

autarchy, autarky

autarchy : absolute power; autocracy

autarky : self-sufficiency

maxim, axiom - An axiom is a self-evident or generally recognised truth, an established principle. A maxim is a succinct expression, especially as a rule of conduct

stupor, torpor

stupor : most usually the state induced by drugs or shock

torpor : is apathy or sluggishness, especially of a physical kind

urban, urbane

urban : relating to a city or town

urbane : charachterised by sophistication; polite or smooth in manner

amoral, immoral, unethical

amoral : having no morals; unconcerned or unconnected with moral standards; having no moral standards - good or bad - by which one can be judged

immoral : having bad morals; not with conforming or opposed to moral standards; wicked; the opposite of moral

unethical : not in conformity with the rules of fight behaviour within a profession


A Concise Dictionary of Confusables, B A Phythian, Guild Publishing 1989.

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