10 Pairs of Similar-Looking Near Antonyms
Many pairs of words, often but not always etymologically related, can be easily confused for each other though they mean almost the opposite. Distinguish carefully between these odd couples:
Contemptible: deserving of contempt, or despicable (“Their effort to suddenly kiss up to her once she inherited money was contemptible.”)
Contemptuous: demonstrating contempt (“His contemptuous dismissal of the idea was inexcusably rude.”)
(Both words stem from the Latin contemnere, “to despise.”)
Flare: a signal light or a similar literal or figurative eruption (The shipwrecked sailor fired a signal flare to attract attention from the passing vessel.”)
Flair: talent, or style (“He’s shown a remarkable flair for the craft.”)
(Flare has uncertain origin, but it is not likely related to flair, from the Latin fragrare “odor.”)
Gourmet: an expert on, or one who appreciates the nuances of, food or drink (“His reputation as a gourmet rests on his familiarity with all the best restaurants.”)
Gourmand: a person enthusiastic about good food and drink; glutton (“My neighbor the gourmand has pretensions of being knowledgeable about wine.”)
(Gourmet is from the French grommet, “boy servant,” perhaps itself based on English groom; gourmand derives from the Middle French gourmant. In French, gourmand remains a close synonym of gourmet, with no negative connotation.)
Incredible: inspiring disbelief, extraordinary (“The fact that she had survived the ordeal was incredible.”)
Incredulous: disbelieving (“I looked at him with a gaze of incredulous wonder.”)
(Both words are from the antonym of the Latin credibilis, “credible.”)
Mantel: a shelf or supporting structure above a fireplace (“She approached the fireplace and placed the candelabra on the marble mantel.”)
Mantle: a literal or figurative cloak, covering, or layer (“A mantle of authority lay on the chieftain’s broad shoulders.”)
(Both words derive from the Latin mantellum.)
Material: matter, or components (“She brushed up against an object covered with soft material.”)
Materiel: supplies and equipment, especially used by a specific organization (“The army found itself running low on materiel as its supply lines were cut.”)
(Both words come from the French materiel.)
Ordinance: order or law, or established usage (“The ordinance went into effect on January 1.”)
Ordnance: artillery, or weapon-related military supplies (“The fort was equipped with enough ordnance to withstand several regiments.”)
(Both words stem from the Latin ordinare, to put into order.”)
Temerity: recklessness (“My assistant had the temerity to suggest that I didn’t know how to do my job!”)
Timidity: lacking in courage or boldness (“Her timidity about approaching him resulted in another missed opportunity.”)
(Temerity is from the Latin temere, “blindly”; timidity derives from the Latin timere, “fear.”)
Troop: a military unit or similar group (“The outnumbered troop retreated in the face of overwhelming firepower.”)
Troupe: a theatrical group or other collection of entertainers (“Stratford was often visited by traveling troupes of professional actors.”)
(The first word is a variant of the second, a Middle French word meaning “company” and related to the Germanic thorp, “village,” which survives in English place names as spelled or, more often, as thorpe.)
Venal: mercenary, corrupt (“His approach to business is purely venal.”)
Venial: forgivable, excusable (“I consider envy a venial sin.”)
(Venal derives from Latin the venum, “sale”; venial comes from the Latin venia, “pardon.”)
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