Top 10 Words Confused in English [M]

By Maeve Maddox

My cumulative list of “words commonly confused” continues with ten that begin with the letter M. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning.

1. manner / manor
Manner is a way of doing or behaving. Ex. “The waiter has a pleasant and helpful manner.” A manor is a house on an estate. Ex. “Cardinal Thomas Wolsey acquired the 14th Century manor at Hampton Court in 1514.” Until King Henry VIII took it away from him, Wolsey was “lord of the manor.”

Ebook authors and celebrity-watchers seem to be especially prone to write the erroneous “lord of the manner.”

2. mantle / mantel
A mantle is a cloak. The prophet Elijah designated Elisha as his successor by throwing his mantle over him. A mantel is the ornamental shelf above a fireplace on which people display trophies and knick-knacks.

3. marshal / Marshall
In modern English, a marshal is an officer of the U.S. Justice Department or a parade leader. In Old English, a marshal was a servant whose job was to tend the horses. The occupation of marshal is reflected in the surname Marshall, but the double-l spelling is only for the proper name.

Marshal also functions as a verb meaning “to arrange or set things in methodical order.” For example, “I’m glad that I wrote my book, because it made me marshal my thoughts.”

4. martial / marital
The error here is one of transposed letters. Martial is pronounced like marshal and means warlike. Marital is pronounced with three syllables, MARE-ih-tul, and means “relating to marriage.” The error, when it occurs, is always good for a laugh. Ex. “New York law also has what is known as constructive abandonment which means one spouse refuses to have martial relations for one or more years.”—Divorce lawyer’s site.

5. meter / metre
Both words are nouns. A meter is a measuring device, like a gas meter. Metre is a metric unit or a type of rhythm in verse.

6. metal / mettle / meddle
Metal is a hard, shiny, malleable material used in the manufacture of tools or artifacts. Mettle derives from the same source as metal and was once used in the same way, but now is used only figuratively to mean the quality of a creature’s disposition. A saucepan is made of metal. To really test their mettle, put presidential candidates in crisis.

Note: A mettlesome person or animal is full of spirit. Meddlesome individuals make themselves unpopular by interfering in affairs that do not concern them; they meddle.

7. militate / mitigate
Militate is “to wage war.” Its current use is usually figurative, with the sense of “to weigh against.” Ex. “All the facts militate against this policy.” Mitigate is “to make something less severe.” Ex. “Homeowners can mitigate the loss of butterfly habitat by breaking up expanses of grass with forage plants.”

8. morbid / moribund
Morbid means “in a diseased state.” Moribund means “in a dying state.” Both words derive from the Latin word for death and are used literally and figuratively.

9. mordant / trenchant
Both words are applied to language and humor. Mordant comes from a French verb meaning “to bite” and means “bitingly sarcastic.” Trenchant comes from a French verb meaning “to cut.” A “mordant remark” hurts, whereas a “trenchant remark” enlightens.

10. mucous / mucus
Mucus is a noun: “a viscous substance secreted by the mucous cells and glands of animals.” Mucous is an adjective: “of the nature of, resembling, or consisting of mucus.” A mucous gland excretes mucus.

Related posts:
Top 10 Confused Words in English [A-B]
Top Ten Confused Words [C-D]
Top 10 Confused Words in English [E-F]
Top 10 Confused Words in English [G-H]
Top 10 Confused Words in English [I-L]

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3 Responses to “Top 10 Words Confused in English [M]”

  • venqax

    “Metre is a metric unit..” In British English, you mean? In SAE a meter is a meter long,e.g. the National Institute of Science and Technology and the U.S. Government Printing Office Manual of Style:

    “Metre is the standard spelling of the metric unit for length in all English-speaking nations except the USA, which uses meter.. Sorry, I felt faint there for a moment.

  • Cygnifier

    Thanks for the continuing list! It is , as always, helpful. One caveat: A quick look at a range of dictionaries show that “meter” and “metre” in connection with a unit of measure, poetic rhythm, and an instrument for measuring (time or gas or whatever) are both correct, with “meter” typically being used in American English and “metre” typically being used in British English.

  • venqax

    Hear, hear Cygnifier. On another note, #3 is always near the top of my list of most commonly misspelled words. Seeing the noun marshal spelled with 2 Ls is so common it almost seems the norm. I remember once in the midst of discussion regarding it when I took 6 books from my office that were right there at hand. In 4 of the them it was spelled marshall (it is a word that comes up fairly frequently in my area). Published books, not papers or handwritten notes. Field Marshalls, federal marshalls, The worst may have been the Grand Marshall of the graduation ceremony in a university’s event program.

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