5 Confused Word Pairs

By Mark Nichol

The similarity of the letters e and i leads to frequent confusion between similar-looking and similar-sounding pairs of words. Here are five such word pairs with their respective meanings and tips for keeping each word in its place:

1. Elicit vs. Illicit

Elicit, meaning “draw forth,” comes from the Latin term lacere, “to entice or lure.” Illicit means “unlawful”; the root word stems from the Latin term licere, “to be allowed,” from which license also derives. To keep them separate in your mind, connect elicit with exit and illicit with illegal.

2. Emigrate vs. Immigrate

To emigrate is to leave one country and live elsewhere; to immigrate is to move to a country. To maintain the distinction between the two, associate emigrate with embark and immigrate with immerse.

3. Eminent vs. Imminent

Eminent means “prominent” or “conspicuous” and is generally associated with accomplished people; imminent means “about to happen,” often with the sense of something of import or involving danger. To help you remember which is which, think of an eminent person as one who emits greatness, and connect imminent with immediate.

4. Emulate vs. Imitate

Emulate can be directly synonymous with imitate but often has the sense of an effort to try to be equal to, whereas to imitate is to try to match an example, or to resemble. To keep them straight, think of emulating as something to do to become eminent, whereas imitating involves mimicking.

5. Explicit vs. Implicit

Something explicit is something fully developed or revealed, and something implicit is not expressed directly, though it can also mean “potential” or “without questioning.” Remember the difference between the two by thinking of explicit in regard to something X rated and implicit as referring to something implied.

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4 Responses to “5 Confused Word Pairs”

  • Lily

    Three words often confused are ensure, insure and assure.

  • venqax

    It might be useful, at least for Americans, to know that *eminent* also means *supreme* or *ultimate* as in the legal concept of eminent domain. In that case it indicates that the state has ultimate, or supreme control of the land, which can be exercised via a compulsory purchase of private property.

  • connie walker

    I remember reading a long time ago that the only time you should use the word “insure” is when you are talking about actual insurance coverage. I this true?

  • Mark Nichol

    Connie:

    It is not incorrect to use insure as a synonym for ensure, to mean “make sure” or “guarantee,” but many writers, including me, like to reserve the use of insure for the use you describe.

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