Confused Words Exercise (344)

In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.)

  • My employer offered me two choices, either take the position in Arizona, or quit; I chose the first _____.

  • Clean water is ______ to life.

  • Some people fear that the ebola outbreak in East Africa may escape the region and become _____.

  • Public school systems are suffering financial strain as they grapple with growing ____ of students who have been diagnosed as "learning disabled."

  • When we reached the theater, the tickets had _____ been sold out.

Answers and Explanations

1. My employer offered me two choices, either take the position in Arizona, or quit; I chose the first alternative.

In American English, alternate (noun or adjective) implies taking turns, as in "We meet on alternate Thursdays," or substituting one thing for another as in "Jones is an alternate juror." Alternative implies a choice between two or more things.

2. Clean water is elemental to life.

Something that is elemental is an essential part of something. Something that is elementary is basic, introductory, or easy, as in "basic English."

3. Some people fear that the ebola outbreak in East Africa may escape the region and become pandemic.

The adjective endemic is applied to a disease that is perennially present within a region or population. For example, "Malaria is endemic to regions close to the Equator." The adjective pandemic refers to a disease that is prevalent over a large area, such as an entire nation, continent, or the entire world.

4. Public school systems are suffering financial strain as they grapple with growing numbers of students who have been diagnosed as "learning disabled."

Amount us used with mass nouns (uncountable nouns): "There’s not a great amount of interest in classical literature these days." Number is used with count nouns: "We’re hoping to see a large number of voters at the polls this November."

5. When we reached the theater, the tickets had already been sold out.

Already is an adverb that refers to time. All ready refers to a degree of preparation: "When you are all ready, I’ll bring the car round."

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