10 Pairs of Words and Their Useful Distinctions
Writers should take care when determining which word among two or more synonyms or near synonyms to employ, because the sense of a word can be subtly or significantly different from that of a similar term, as the following examples illustrate.
Childish refers to immature behavior characteristic of a child, while childlike pertains to more positive qualities such as innocence and curiosity.
Something that is difficult to read because the text has been damaged or obscured is illegible or unreadable, but the latter term may alternatively refer to the poor quality of the content.
Incomparable is used as an intensifier to mean that the person, place, or thing so described is so excellent that no other person, place, or thing can compare; uncomparable, meanwhile, means that something about the person, place, or thing prevents it from being compared to someone, someplace, or something else.
Inequality has a quantitative connotation; inequity implies an inequality borne of injustice or unfairness. However, inequality also has this sense in sociological contexts, as in references to gender or racial discrimination.
5. Inexplicable and Unexplainable
These words are nearly identical in meaning, but inexplicable has developed a unique connotation of an illogical or irrational quality, as in references to odd behavior or supernatural phenomena.
Something valuable has value; something invaluable has value that, because of its quality or intangible importance, cannot be quantified.
Lonely and lonesome are nearly synonymous, but while lonely simply means “desiring companionship,” lonesome can have a slightly different connotation, one that is more existential or philosophical — although, contradictorily, it is also more colloquial. Lonesome is also sometimes used to refer to a desolate landscape, as in “the lonesome prairie.”
Something that has melted has, often because of heat, changed from a solid state to a liquid state; something that is molten is presently in a liquid state due to melting. The connotation is of extremely hot liquid, such as steel or lava, and the term also refers figuratively to a glowing quality.
Someone who is misinformed has received erroneous information, whereas someone who is uninformed lacks information.
Someone or something that is nauseating causes nausea; someone who is nauseated is experiencing nausea. This distinction is often not observed in colloquial writing, but careful writers maintain it.
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