Top Ten Words Confused Words [Q-R]

By Maeve Maddox

My cumulative list of “words commonly confused” continues with ten that begin with the letters Q and R. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning.

1. quote / quotation
Traditionally, quote is a verb and quotation is a noun:

May I quote you on that? (verb)
I used a quotation from Dr. Johnson as an epigraph. (noun)

The Chicago Manual of Style includes a note on these words in the “Good usage versus common usage section,” apparently preferring to preserve the distinction in formal writing.

The CMS note also suggests that a difference may exist in the minds of some writers between quote as a noun and quotation as a noun:
quotes: contemporary remarks usable in their writing.
quotations: wisdom of the ages expressed pithily.

2. quiet / quite
This is a spelling problem for speakers who aren’t in the habit of looking closely at words.

Quiet functions as noun, adjective, and verb:
In the old days, librarians insisted on absolute quiet from the patrons. (noun)
Parents often worry when their children are excessively quiet. (adjective)
Susan is known as the quiet sister. (adjective)
Please do something to quiet that barking dog. (verb)

The most common use of quite is as a synonym for the adverb very:
They say that Bill Gates is quite rich. (adverb)

3. reign / rein
The noun reign refers to the period of rule of a monarch. The verb reign means to exercise sovereign power or authority.

The noun rein refers to a strap, usually of leather, that is used to control a horse. The verb rein means to control a horse. Figuratively, rein means to put a restraint on something.

For example, “to rein” or “rein in” one’s impulses.
The most common confusion between these words is with the idiom “free rein.” The figurative expression derives from horseback riding. To give a horse “free rein” is to hold the reins loosely and allow the horse a certain amount of free movement.

4. raise / raze
The verb raise has many meanings, but the meaning in contrast to raze is “build up” or “construct.” The pioneer raised a rudimentary cabin to house his family.”

The verb raze means “tear down” or “destroy.” “The historic opera house was razed to make room for a parking deck.”

5. real / really
Common in colloquial speech, real is often substituted for the intensifying adverb really. The adjective real means “actually existing, not imaginary.” This is a real denarius from Roman times.

Used as an intensifier, really means very, or thoroughly. Casablanca is a really memorable movie.

6. rebate / refund
A rebate is a discount collectible after a purchase. I paid $50 for the headphones, but the rebate was $10, so the final cost was $40.

A refund is the full amount of a purchase returned to a customer. The spaghetti-maker didn’t work, so I asked for a refund.

7. regardless / irregardless
The adverb regardless means “without regard to.” Charles intends to buy a herd of llamas, regardless of my objections. The soldier tackled the bomber, regardless of his own safety.

Nonstandard irregardless is used by some speakers as either a deliberately humorous portmanteau word or a confused collision of regardless and irrespective. Here’s a serious use of the word from a community non-profit agency in New Jersey:

Schools walk a delicate balance. Some schools that have tried to discipline a student for cyberbullying actions that took place off-campus and outside of school hours have been sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student’s free speech right. Irregardless, parents should inform the school if they become aware of any cyberbullying issue.

8. restive / restful
Both words are adjectives.

Restive means unsettled, restless. Ex. “Speaking softly, Nancy calmed the restive horse.”

Restful means “full of rest.” Anything that bestows a feeling of calm and invites relaxation is restful. “Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is a restful piece.”

9. retch / wretch
The verb retch may be defined as “vomiting or trying to.” “She retched driblets of green bile.” “The smell of the Dumpster caused him to retch.”

Wretch is a noun. It can mean “a pitiable person” or “a vile person.” “The poor wretch has lost all in the fire.” “Anyone who would deliberately profit from another’s illness is a miserable, rotten wretch.”

10. rise / raise
Used as verbs, rise and raise are often misused.

Rise is intransitive. Ex. Here comes the Judge; all rise! The candidate says those things in the hope that his poll numbers will rise.

Raise is transitive. It takes an object. Ex. Let us raise a toast to departed friends. Does anyone wish to raise a question?

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5 Responses to “Top Ten Words Confused Words [Q-R]”

  • Nicholas Rose

    I am surprised at the mention of “quite” as a synonym for “very”, and by the example cited.
    Is this perhaps American usage? (I am British.)
    In British English, the adverb “quite” can have two slightly contradictory meanings: “rather/fairly” or “totally”. Which meaning is intended can generally be deduced from the context, since “quite” meaning “totally” can only be used with absolute adjectives.
    In British English, therefore, “quite rich” would mean “fairly rich”, weaker than “very rich”, while “quite exhausted” would mean “totally exhausted”, stronger than “very exhausted” (which in any case sounds odd as “very” is not appropriate for use with an absolute adjective).

  • Jim Porter

    I STILL do a double take when I hear about something that has been razed to the ground.

  • venqax

    On No. 1, I am part of the crowd CMS describes. I don’t think of just anything someone says,– “Wow! That’s a good hot dog” as a quotation. If it requires an identifier of some kind, it’s just a quote. I would use quotation to mean something with a degree of profundity (including humorous profundity.)

    No. 4: I agree with Jim Porter that whenever I hear of a building or village, or whatever being razed I have to think for a moment and turn it right-side-up in my head. If some just speaks of a barn raising/razing you have no way of knowing what they mean and may very well show up with the completely wrong tools.

    No. 5: I think this one falls in with all the other disuse that adverbs get, for some reason. I am always hearing that something is not being taken “serious” or that another thing was done just “perfect”. Someone doing something “real” good would be just another example. There is just a general allergy to LYs for some reason.

    No. 7: I have a hypothesis about why they’re non-profit.

    No. 8: Restive is stumbling block. It comes from the same “if it sounds like X, it must mean X” logic that gives us the enormous piles of misuse of enormity, as well as noisome, nimrod, crapulence, fortuitous, etc.

  • Maeve

    Venqax,
    I suspect that the widespread ly-hatred owes a lot to writers who have magnified the recommendation in Strunk and White to “avoid awkward
    -ly adverbs” to mean “avoid all -ly adverbs.”

  • Susan Buleychuk (Utter)

    Regarding your inquiry about a good way to teach the use of the definite article “the”, it has been my experience that some second-language learners have more difficulty understanding the contexts than others. You’re quite accurate in saying that your Iranian friend has difficulty with the grammar form: presumably he is an Arabic speaker, and specificity is not one of the characteristics of Arabic language. The culture and the first language to describe it is rather general and wide sweeping; the Arabic perspective tends to be holistic. Therefore, you must teach articles as an English-specific grammar form and a new context to be learned. Arabic speakers do specify with primary and ordinal numbers; use that as a foundation. For example, when we identify “the” computer(s), we are talking about “the = one” on the desk, or “the more than one” in the lab. When we identify “a” computer, we are talking about “a = any” computer anywhere. Students don’t usually have difficulty understanding the need to match articles with count nouns and make the necessary subject-verb agreements. Where they have more trouble is with identifying non-count and abstract nouns. When they struggle with whether or not to use an article, they must first decide if the noun can be counted. Common nouns such as rice and sand (some specific culturally reflective items are useful here) cannot be counted, even if we take the reductions back to their original forms of “grains of” rice and sand. Therefore, no articles. With nouns that refer to qualities (honesty), abstract ideas (behavior), and phenomena (pollution), students will understand that these similarly cannot be counted. Still, each ELL will take a different approach to using articles: Arabs generally will use none, and Chinese generally will use one with every noun, or the quantifier “some”, just to be safe. There is nothing for students to do about the exceptions to the rules and group nouns except to memorize them. For example “The” Rocky Mountains (they can be counted individually, but as a range they are the only ones); “The” Canadian People (like rice and sand, also a group of many treated as one unit). Don’t worry too much about articles: it takes years for ELLs to master this form, and in the meantime, if students are comprehensible, that is what matters most!

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