15 Frequently Confused Pairs of Adjectives
Some of these similar-looking words do have, among various meanings, the same sense, but their primary definitions are quite different. Know these distinctions:
1. ambiguous/ambivalent: To be ambiguous is be able to be understood in more than one way (or, less commonly, of uncertain identity); to be ambivalent is to express uncertainty or contradictory opinions. (The latter term is also distinct from indifferent, which implies a lack of opinion or concern.)
2. alternate/alternative: To be alternate is to occur by turns or in a pattern that skips from one side to the other, or to provide another possibility; to be alternative is to offer a choice, or to be a variation from a norm.
3. abstruse/obtuse: Something abstruse is, because of complexity, something not easily comprehended; something obtuse is unclear because or careless or imprecise information. (Obtuse also describes someone who is dull or insensitive, or an object that is blunt or round, and alternatively refers to an angle greater than 90 degrees.)
4. arrant/errant: Arrant means “immoderate” or “extreme”; errant means “traveling” or “being aimless, or “straying” or “misbehaving.”
5. celibate/chaste: A celibate person is one who abstains from sex or marriage; chaste is a synonym but can also mean “modest” or even “spotless” or “austere.”
6. climatic/climactic: Climatic refers to climate; climactic applies to a climax.
7. concerted/concentrated: Something concerted has been conducted in a coordinated manner; concentrated means “focused” in the sense of organizing toward a common goal.
8. desirable/desirous: Something desirable is attractive or advantageous; desirous refers to being driven by desire.
9. disinterested/uninterested: Both terms can mean “apathetic,” but disinterested also has the sense of “neutral.”
10. drastic/dramatic: Drastic means “extreme”; dramatic refers to something suggestive of drama, or emphatic.
11. exceptional/exceptionable: Something exceptional is superior, or rare (it is also employed to refer to those with mental or physical abilities); something exceptionable is offensive or undesirable — people take exception to it.
12. extended/extensive: Extended means “lengthened” (though it is also sometimes used as a synonym for extensive); extensive means “to a great degree” or “of a great magnitude.”
13. forceful/forcible: To be forceful is to be strong or persuasive; something forcible is accomplished by using force (though it can mean “powerful,” too). Forced, meanwhile, refers to involuntary action or something done only with effort.
14. ironic/sarcastic: An ironic statement is one meant to be understood as meaning something other than its literal meaning indicates; a sarcastic statement can be ironic, but the word sarcastic generally refers to something said facetiously to express ridicule.
15. luxurious/luxuriant: Something luxurious is resplendent in luxury; something luxuriant is fertile and lush, though the word may also be used as a synonym for luxurious.
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