Top 10 Confused Words in English [G-H]

By Maeve Maddox

Narrowing the list to ten is difficult, but here are ten words beginning with the letters G and H that are frequently mixed up in speaking and/or writing.

1. gambit / gamut

Perhaps it’s the first syllable that leads to confusion between these two nouns.

In the game of chess, a gambit is an opening move in which a player offers a sacrifice, usually of a pawn, in order to gain an advantage.

By extension, a gambit is a ploy intended to gain an advantage, especially at the beginning of a contest or negotiation.

As a musical term, a gamut is the full range of notes that a voice or instrument can produce. Figuratively, a gamut is the full range or scope of something. Ex. His handyman skills run the gamut from carpentry to plumbing.

2. genial / congenial

Both of these adjectives derive from the same source.

Used to describe a person, genial means cheerful, kindly, affable. Applied to a thing, like weather, genial means mild or pleasant.

In reference to people, congenial connotes a character agreeable to one’s taste or liking. For example, a congenial friend has similar likes and dislikes. A congenial host anticipates the needs and likes of guests. Applied to things, congenial means suited to one’s temperament. For example, a congenial job for a bookish person might be one involving research.

3. gibe / jibe

Both words are pronounced the same, and both can be used as either a noun or a verb.

As a noun, a gibe is an insult or sneering comment. As a verb, to gibe is “to taunt or insult.” Both the OED and Merriam-Webster recognize jibe as a variant spelling of gibe, when used in the context of insulting.

However, because jibe also means “to agree,” many writers to use the spelling jibe only in the context of agreement:

When the witnesses were interviewed separately, their stories jibed.

When the accountant went over the books, he found that the figures did not jibe with the previous report.

4. give / gift

Conservative speakers (like me) shudder to hear both these words used as verbs.

Give is a verb. Friends give gifts to one another. Alumni give donations to colleges.

For most modern speakers, gift is a noun, something given, a possession transferred to another without the expectation of an equivalent.

The use of gift as a verb is not new in English. The OED shows citations dated from 1500 to the 1880s. However, this usage dropped out of general use so long ago that its revival strikes modern ears as barbarous and pompous. I suppose a huge donation to a university might warrant a bit of pomposity: “The corporation gifted the university with a million dollars.” For ordinary purposes, however, it’s still more idiomatic to give presents and not “gift” people with them.

5. grisly / grizzly

The adjective grisly refers to something that inspires great horror. The word is thought to derive from a verb meaning “to shudder with horror,” or “to be filled with dread.”

The adjective grizzly comes from a word meaning “gray or grayish.” A beard could be described as grizzly, but in current speech, the participle grizzled is more common in the context of things that are gray.

Although grizzly bears range in color from very light tan (almost white) to dark brown, they apparently acquired their name from explorers who saw grayish specimens. One English explorer described the huge bear that he encountered as “neither white nor black, but silver-haired like our English rabbit.” Another wrote that he’d seen “the skin of an enormous grizzled bear.”

A grizzly bear rushing toward an unwary camper would be a grisly sight.

6. hanged / hung

When hang means, “to execute by suspending a person by the neck,” the preferred forms are hang, hanged(has) hanged. For example: “The murderer was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.”

When hang refers to suspending an inanimate object or a person without intent to execute, the forms are hanghung(has) hung. For example: “The housekeeper hung the laundry in the garden.”

7. historic / historical

The prevailing meaning of historic in modern English is “having or likely to have great historical importance or fame. For example, “The historic voyage of H.M.S. Beagle commenced on the morning of 27 December 1831.”

Historical means, “concerned with past events.” It is also used to contrast events that actually happened with fiction or legend: “Although fictionalized, the novel is based on well researched historical events.”

8. hoard / horde

The word hoard is used as both noun and verb. As a noun, a hoard is an accumulation of something valuable to the hoarder. As a verb, to hoard is “to put away something of value for preservation or future use.”

The verb usually has a negative connotation, implying that the person doing the hoarding is being selfish (in the context of scarcity) or has a disorder (in the context of an inability to part with unneeded possessions).

The noun horde originally referred to a tribe of Asiatic nomads. Now it can also mean a large gathering of people or animals. The word usually bears a connotation of ferocity: The child fled from a horde of angry geese.

9. home / hone

The confusion associated with these words occurs when home is used as a phrasal verb with the particle in.

To home in is “to come closer and closer to a destination.” A fighter pilot homes in on a target. A detective homes in on a suspect.

To hone is “to sharpen.” One hones a blade to a sharp edge.

I’ve read defenses of “hone in” as the equivalent of “home in,” but careful writers distinguish between the two.

10. hurdle / hurtle

As a noun, a hurdle is an obstacle. As a verb, to hurdle is “to jump over an obstacle.” It is often used figuratively: Kornblut describes the roadblocks all female candidates must hurdle as “hair, hemlines and husbands.”

Hurtle is a verb. The usual sense in modern English is “to rush violently.” For example, “The runaway wagon hurtled toward us.”

Related Posts:
Top 10 Confused Words in English [A-B]
Top 10 Confused Words in English [C-D]
Top 10 Confused Words in English [E-F]

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3 Responses to “Top 10 Confused Words in English [G-H]”

  • Rich Wheeler

    To grisly and grizzly, you can add gristly, which describes meat that has an excess of gristle. Gristle refers to cartilage, tendons, or other tough connective tissues in meat.
    Having bitten into the gristly steak, she understood why the store had priced the meat so low.

    I did not know the difference between genial and congenial, and it’s nice to have the question of hanged vs. hung settled. THANK YOU.

  • Andy Knoedler

    Re: grisly and grizzly
    Although I am American, I have three British sons. When they were very young, they would on occasion get into a crying jag, perhaps due to teething. Someone or another would invariably make the comment that “he’s grizzling.” At first, this seemed a strange choice of words, but I got used to it and would sometimes use it myself. The grizzling would come to a stop when we were able to “settle” the baby.

  • Maeve

    Andy,
    I’d forgotten “grizzling.” Early in my seven-year stay in England, I lived with a couple who had ten children. Happily, several had left home by then, but there was a baby in residence. She grizzled often.

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