Confusable words | Sunday Observer

Confusable words

25 April, 2021

Some words in English are confusable as there are subtle differences in the meaning.
Ambiguous / ambivalent
The word ‘ambiguous’ refers to a confusing situation that has two or more meanings or interpretations. However, to be ‘’ambivalent’ is to be confused by two contradictory or conflicting thoughts or emotions.
The language in the minister’s statement is highly ambiguous.
The parents were ambivalent about having another child.
Amend / emend
‘Amend’ means to correct, improve, change or revise a text. ‘Emend’ means to correct a text by removing errors. In modern English ‘amend’ is acceptable to describe both tasks.
The law relating to marriage is to be amended.
Amiable / amicable
The word ‘amiable’ applies to people. ‘Amicable’ can be used to describe inanimate relationships.
I always remember my first English teacher as an amiable person.
The rival groups finally reached an amicable agreement.
Amid / amidst
The word ‘amid’ is used when events happen in a situation which is noisy, busy or confused. ‘Amidst’ is a literary word with the same meaning.
Demonstrators ripped the national flag amid shouts of “Death to the tyrants.”
Amoral / immoral
‘Amoral’ means ‘unconcerned with morals.’ To be immoral means ‘to offend against an established moral code.’ An amoral person will do anything against morality.
It is immoral to be rich while poor people are starving.
Amuse / bemuse
To amuse means ‘to entertain people and make them laugh.’ ‘Bemuse’ is to confuse and bewilder.
Chaplin’s antics never failed to amuse the audience.
She looked slightly bemused by all the questions.
Analysis / synthesis
The word ‘analysis’ means ‘ taking part, examining or reducing something to its elements.’ ‘Synthesis’ means ‘combination or building something from various elements.’
Further analysis of the data is needed.
Krishmamurti’s philosophy is a synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophical ideas.
Anaesthetic / analgesic
An anaesthetic produces a loss of physical feeling. An analgesic reduces sensitivity to pain.
Patients are given a general anaesthetic before the operation.
Paracetamol is a widely used analgesic.
Annex / annexe
To annex is to attach or take possession of something. An annexe is an addition or extension.
The lawyer wanted to annex an extra paragraph to the will.
We are going to rent out the newly-built annexe.
Ante- / anti-
These are two prefixes having different meanings. ‘Ante-‘ means ‘before.’ ‘Anti-‘ means ‘against.’
The economic troubles antedate the current administration.
An anticeptic is a liquid that kills harmful bacteria.
Anxious / eager
The word ‘anxious’ implies a degree of worry, fear or apprehension. To be eager is to be impatient, keen or enthusiastic.
There was an anxious moment when the plane suddenly dropped. She was eager to get back to work as soon as possible.
Anyone / any one
‘Anyone’ is used to refer to any person when it is not important to say exactly who that is. ‘Any one’ is used when a single person or object is being described.
Bryan offers advice to anyone interested in becoming a teacher.
The first prize could go to any one of the contestants.
Appraise / apprise
To appraise is to estimate the worth of somebody or something. ‘Apprise’ means ‘to inform.’
Greenpeace has been invited to appraise the environmental cost of the operation.
The minister was fully apprised of all the details of the proposed project.
Assess / evaluate
To assess is to estimate the value of something, usually for tax purposes. To evaluate is to determine the numerical or monetary value of something. The value of the business has been assessed at Rs 500 million.
It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of different treatments.
Arbitrate / mediate
Arbitrate is to officially judge how an argument between two opposing sides should be settled. To mediate is to try to end a quarrel between two people or groups. A committee will arbitrate between management and unions.
UN officials mediated between the rebel fighters and the government.