In English, there are words that we call paronyms, and they can cause a lot of difficulty. Other languages have them too, of course, but not on the same scale as we do. So, let’s look at some of the basics of paronyms so that you can gain a better understanding of them. After that, we will review a list of the most common paronyms for future reference.
Defining a Paronym
The term paronym is not used much anymore. Usually, these words are lumped into a larger category that we now just call “confusing words.” Even native English speakers have problems with the their proper use from time to time, so no one should feel ashamed of making mistakes when using them.
If we look at the dictionary, there are actually three definitions. Talk about adding to the confusion! Here they are:
- A word that comes from another word. Both words have the same root and have similar meanings. Example: “adult” and “adulthood.” An “adult” is a person who has reached the legal age of maturity, and “adulthood” is actually the condition of being an adult.
- A word from one language that looks and sounds almost the same in another language, such as “salad” in English and salade in French.
- A word that sounds like another word, and is similar in spelling, but means something different. These are also called “near homonyms.” The words “accept” and “except” are examples of this type of paronym. So, for example: “John will accept all of the chores he was given, except for cleaning out the garage” (Maybe he thinks his brother should do that one).
There is no “magic formula” for learning paronyms, nor for learning their spelling, definitions or correct use in speaking and writing. Unfortunately, as you learn English, you will come across these tricky little devils and will have to just stop and study them.
The best advice is this: start keeping a notebook of paronyms as you find them. In fact, it might be better to do this in a digital file that you can alphabetize. Then, when you have trouble remembering one, it will be easy to look it up. You should also write a sentence using each one. This will help you to understand how they are used, as well as help you to remember their spelling.
To start you off, this guide will provide you with the most common paronyms that you will encounter, along with a short definition and sentence for each one. This should give you a great head start in learning them.
- Artist: a person skilled in one of the fine arts. “The artist had a showing of his work in a gallery.”
- Artisan: a craftsman. “Bricklaying is a job for a true artisan.”
- Artistic: creative or related to art. “The new garden has an artistic flair.”
- Artful: clever. “The artful magician fooled us all.”
- Confident: sure of oneself. “He was totally confident that he could win the race.”
- Confidant: someone trusted with a secret. “Her best friend was also her confidant.”
- Child: a young person. “The child loved her new puppy.”
- Childish: like a child. Used as a criticism of someone. “His display of anger was childish.”
- Childlike: innocent. “Her childlike love for merry-go-rounds was refreshing.”
- Collision: crash. “The car collision tied up the highway for an hour.”
- Collusion: secret agreement, usually sneaky or illegal. “The collusion between the two witnesses was discovered.”
- Dependent: relying on someone or something. “She was dependent on her husband for everything.”
- Dependant: a person who is dependent. “She claimed him as a dependant on her tax return.”
- Effect: a result of something. “The effect of the new law was disastrous.”
- Affect: to cause an effect or change. “How will this new law affect our street repairs?”
- Effective: having a good effect. “The new law was effective in getting the streets repaired quickly.”
- Graceful: elegant or beautiful. “The dancer’s movements were graceful.”
- Gracious: kind and welcoming. “He was a gracious host to us.”
- Honorary: a position that is unpaid or given as an honor, without the usual requirements. “He was an honorary member of our club.”
- Honorable: ethical, with principle. “The man was honorable and lived up to his end of the agreement.”
- Human: member of the human race. “She was the only human on the island.”
- Humane: kind. “Her treatment of the animals was so humane.”
- Industrious: hard working. “Only an industrious person would be able to complete this project on time.”
- Industrial: referring to manufacturing. “The industrial revolution changed society forever.”
- Lovable: worthy of love. “The puppy was a loveable little creature.”
- Lovely: beautiful, very nice. “It was a lovely wedding.”
- Momentous: important. “The treaty signing was a momentous occasion.”
- Momentary: very short. “His happiness was only momentary because the pain came right back.”
- Negligent: careless. “He was negligent about locking the door and a thief got in.”
- Negligible: unimportant or small. “The damage from the storm was negligible.”
- Memorable: worth remembering. “The concert was memorable.”
- Memorial: a tribute for someone who has died. “The memorial service for the dead pilot was emotional.”
- Popular: well-liked. “Jeans are a popular form of dress at ball games.”
- Populous: heavily populated. “The city of New York is populous.”
- Sensible: rational. “It was a sensible idea to carpool to the event.”
- Sensitive: easily affected. “Her skin was very sensitive to the sun, so she had to use a lot of sun block.”
- Universe: everything in space. “Our universe is a vast, unexplored place.”
- Universal: affecting everyone. “The effect of climate change is universal.”
- Refuge: a shelter. “He found refuge in an abandoned cabin during the storm.”
- Refuse: to not accept something. “I refuse to clean this room up again.”
- Willing: ready. “I am willing to go to the bank with you to fix this problem.”
- Willful: determined. “She was a willful child who would never stop once her mind was made up to do something.”
Time and Patience
Given that native English speakers often spell and use these words incorrectly, it should be clear that will take quite a bit of time and patience to learn how to use them properly. As you read more in English, you will come across them more frequently. The more experience you have with paronyms, the better you will get. Until then, give yourself a break, don’t worry too much and try to learn them as best you can.
Hero Image by Patrick Bürgler (CC BY-SA 2.0)