Top 10 Words Confused in English [N-P]

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My cumulative list of words commonly confused continues with ten that begin with the letters N and P. The confusion relates to spelling or meaning.

1. nutritional / nutritious
The adjective nutritional means, “related to the process of nutrition,” that is, using food to support life. Ex. The nutritional value of one egg is the equivalent of one ounce of meat.

The adjective nutritious means “nourishing or healthy to eat.” Ex. A nutritious breakfast can help prevent overeating and snacking later in the day. 

2. noisome / noisy
The adjective noisome means, “offensive to the smell or other senses.” Ex. I was repelled by the noisome smell that accompanied the speaker back from the smoking area. 

The adjective noisy means, “characterized by the presence of noise.” Ex. Many writers find it difficult to work in a noisy environment.

3. observance / observation
The performance of a customary rite is an observance. Ex. The observance of Memorial Day includes military parades and the placing of flowers on graves. Ex. Do you support moving the observance of Memorial Day to May 30th? 

An observation is an act of recognizing and noting some fact or occurrence, often involving the measurement of some magnitude with suitable instruments. Ex. Gallileo’s achievements included the observation and analysis of sunspots.

4. obsolescent / obsolete
Something that is obsolescent is going out of use. Ex. Although still used in 66 percent of US homes, landline telephones are obsolescent.

Something that is obsolete is no longer active or in use. Ex. Mimeograph machines are obsolete.

5. ordinance / ordnance
An ordinance is an official decree. Ex. An ordinance in my town forbids residents to allow pet cats to go outside without a leash.

The term ordnance refers to military supplies including weapons, ammunition, combat vehicles, and the necessary maintenance tools and equipment. Ex. In 1969, he served as a platoon sergeant in the 70th Ordnance Battalion, responsible for maintaining the 5th Infantry Division’s basic load of ammunition.

6. palate / palette / pallet
All three words are pronounced the same.

The roof of the mouth consisting of the structures that separate the mouth from the nasal cavity is called the palate. Figuratively palate refers to the physical sense of taste or to intellectual capacity.

Ex. Ludovico wrote that, given Francesco’s exquisite palate, he chose only fish of the finest quality.
Ex. It may take a well-developed literary palate to fully appreciate, but this miniseries remains an indelible treat.

Painters arrange paint on a palette. Ex. Over the course of more than two decades, I’ve used all kinds of palettes – dishes with little wells, pieces of porcelain tile, old CDs, waxed paper, and water-color paper.  

Figuratively, “an artist’s palette” is a distinctive combination of colors. Ex. Vermeer’s seventeenth-century palette did not include many strong colors.

The word pallet may refer to a temporary bed. Ex. At night I slept on a pallet in a corner of Belle’s upstairs room.

The word pallet also applies to “a portable platform of wood, metal, or other material designed for handling by a forklift truck.”

7. pedal / peddle
The verb pedal means, “to use or work a pedal, as of an organ, piano, or bicycle.”

Literally, the verb peddle means, “to travel about with wares for sale.” Figuratively, it means, “to deal out or seek to disseminate, as ideas or opinions. Ex. Writers come to tell you stories, [and] to peddle their ideas.

8. pour / pore
pour: to cause or allow to flow; emit in a steady stream.
pore: to gaze intently or fixedly; look searchingly; to devote oneself to attentive reading (used chiefly with over).

9. prescribe / proscribe
To lay down a rule or give directions is to prescribe. Ex. The doctor prescribed an earlier bedtime.

To condemn or forbid as harmful is to proscribe. Ex. The university has proscribed the carrying of guns on campus.

10. peek / peak / pique
Most people use these words correctly in speech, but misspell them in writing. All three may be used as nouns or verbs.

verb: look slyly or furtively or to peer through a crack or hole or from a place of concealment.
noun: a surreptitious look

verb: to reach a maximum, as of capacity, value, or activity.
noun: the pointed or projecting part of something.
noun: the top of a hill or mountain or something resembling it.

verb: to arouse anger or resentment in someone.
noun: offense taken.

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7 thoughts on “Top 10 Words Confused in English [N-P]”

  1. Note to readers:
    I’ve had a couple of comments chiding me for not including a more thorough discussion of “pique” in this article. I deliberately treat the entries as briefly as possible in this type of post. For more on “pique,” see this one:

  2. Wish I’d seen officious/official on the list! I’ve seen the former misused by some who should know better.

  3. I am trying to play catch up with my DWTs.

    Isn’t there another meaning for ‘pore’ — as in the pores on your skin?

  4. “The adjective nutritious means “nourishing or healthy to eat.” Ex. A nutritious breakfast can help prevent overeating and snacking later in the day.” Now see, there I’d have to jump in and say wait! You’ve conflated healthy and healthful. “The adjective nutritious means ‘nourishing or healthful to eat.'” What would be the word for that? Irony?

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