Vocabulary Quiz #13: Commonly Confused Words

By Mark Nichol

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.)

1. Mozart was a musical ______ who gave his first concert at the age of four.

a) prodigy
b) prodigal

2. None of the freshmen wanted to room with Felix because of his _____ manners; he piled wet towels on the floor, used anyone’s toothbrush, and left food scraps to moulder in the wastepaper basket.

a) barbaric
b) barbarous

3. Your design would probably work, but building it is not ______ because of the expense and rarity of the materials.

a) practical
b) practicable

4. His friends’ plan to vandalize the school went against the boy’s ______ , so he refused to take part.

a) conscience
b) conscious

5. Some have called this ______ life “a vale of tears.”

a) earthy
b) earthly

Answers and Explanations

1. Mozart was a musical prodigy who gave his first concert at the age of four.
a) prodigy

A prodigy is something out of the ordinary. It’s often used to refer to a child with gifts beyond his age. A prodigal is a wastrel, a person who spends his wealth foolishly, with no thought for the future.

2. None of the freshmen wanted to room with Felix because of his barbarous manners; he piled wet towels on the floor, used anyone’s toothbrush, and left food scraps to moulder in the wastepaper basket.
b) barbarous

Barbarous and barbaric are similar in meaning; many speakers use them interchangeably to mean “uncivilized.” Barbaric always refers to extreme, gruesome cruelty; barbarous can refer to behavior that is merely coarse.

3. Your design would probably work, but building it is not practicable because of the expense and rarity of the materials.
b) practicable

A practical idea is sensible and reasonable. A practicable idea, on the other hand, is one that can be done or put into practice.

4. His friends’ plan to vandalize the school went against the boy’s conscience , so he refused to take part.
a) conscience

Conscience is a noun. It is a person’s moral guide. Conscious is an adjective meaning “alert, aware.”

5. Some have called this earthly life “a vale of tears.”
b) earthly

Earthly is an adjective referring to things on or of the earth. Earthy is also an adjective. Earthy is a pleasant word for vulgar. “An earthy remark,” for example, is one that would not be spoken in polite company.

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5 Responses to “Vocabulary Quiz #13: Commonly Confused Words”

  • D.A.W.

    I recently saw a case in an online publication in which the word “earthen” was used where “earthly” was intended and needed.
    Something is “earthen” when it is a piece of pottery or similar stuff, like beads or bricks. In other words, earthen things are made out of dried-out mud.
    “Earthly life” is “life as we know it”, and there is no such thing as “earthen life”. Earthen things are dead, dead, dead, as far as we know.
    There was an episode of “The Outer Limits” in which a man could overhear two stones conversing with one another, and his ability to hear them had something to do with the metal plate in his skull! In fact, a TV station in Phoenix (and maybe elsewhere) will be retransmitting this episode tonight!

  • D.A.W.

    Hence Felix would have been the fastidious freshman in college!

  • D.A.W.

    “None of the freshmen wanted to room with Felix because of his barbarous manners.”
    Felix Unger??
    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Odd_Couple_(1970_TV_series)
    Oscar Madison was the one with the barbarous manners, and Felix was the fastidious one.

  • D.A.W.

    Yes, I agree with venqax – use “impractical”.
    “Impracticable” is firing people to the moon with a cannon, like in “From the Earth to the Moon” by Verne. The people would be crushed by the acceleration.
    “Impracticable” is wiping out many viral diseases because the viruses mutate too rapidly.

  • venqax

    On #3 I think I would come down in the opposite place. Expense and rarity of materials seems to me to make something impractical– impracticable. IOW, it still could be done, it’s just not reasonable or sensible to do try.

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