Confusing Words Clarified: Group C; Homonyms, Homophones, Homographs, Synonyms, Polysemes, etc.

(lists of "C" sections that are organized into what for some people are confusing groups of words)

Three words that every student of language should understand are homonyms, synonyms, and antonyms.

Homonyms are words that sound alike, but have different meanings. Synonyms are words that are related in meaning but do not sound alike (begin and commence, for example).

Antonyms are direct opposites in meaning, as hot and cold; white and black.

With homonyms, the following set of to, too, and two are all pronounced exactly alike, but by no means are they interchangeable in writing. To be sure that you choose the correct spelling for any on these, you must know the meanings of all three so you will not make wrong choices with a feeling of vagueness and uncertainty.

Efforts have been made to help you grasp the meanings of these and other words that may be confusing so you can utilize them with greater accuracy in your communication.

Your comments and suggestions are always welcome by writing to: E-mail Contact (just click it for an e-mail form) or by typing,, as the address in your e-mail heading.

If you have any problems understanding the pronunciation symbols, go to this Pronunciation Chart for clarifications.

cabal, cable
cabal (kuh BAL) (noun)
A secret group, or a plot, that is devoted to intrigue and to the overthrow of a political system: The cabal consisted of men and women who were committed to achieving a new government, by force if necessary.
cable (KAY buhl) (noun)
A rope, wire, or chain of considerable circumference and strength which may be used to hold or to fasten objects together or, as in telecommunications, to carry electric or message impulses: The workmen installed the new cable for the telephone system.

When the workers were installing the new cable system in the basement, they came across a secret room where it appeared that a cabal of social advocates met.

cacao, coca, cocaine, cocoa, coco
cacao (kuh KOU, KAY oh) (noun)
A South American tree, Theobroma cacao, which produces the seed pods, the beans of which are used to make a chocolate drink: Attempts to grow the cacao tree in North America were mostly unsuccessful.
coca (KOH kuh) (noun)
One of several South American plants of the Erythroxylon family, whose leaves contain cocaine and other alkaloids used to make highly addictive substances: The dried leaves of the coca plant, chewed by people of the Andes for a stimulating effect, is also used for extraction of cocaine.
cocaine (koh KAYN, KOH kayn") (noun)
A narcotic (alkaloid) extracted from coca leaves; used as a surface anesthetic or taken as a narcotic which can become powerfully addictive as a stimulant of the central nervous system: Rene attended a Detox program as he attempted to overcome his cocaine addiction.
cocoa (KOH koh) (noun)
1. Beans from the Theobroma cacao tree that have been roasted and ground to a powder and from which much of the fat has been extracted, often used for baking or making a hot drink: The recipe called for several spoonfuls of cocoa when making the chocolate cake.
2. The ground powder made from the seeds of a tropical tree which is mixed with milk or water and sugar to make a chocolate drink or syrup: After a long walk on a snowy day, a cup of hot cocoa tastes very delicious.
coco (KOH koh) (noun)
The coconut palm and its fruit: When the tourist ship went into the harbor, the young boys climbed the coco trees and threw down the cocos.

As a tourist one must be careful when buying a hot drink of cocoa which is made from the seed of the cacao tree. Don’t be tricked into buying some coca leaves from which cocaine is made.

In fact, you are probably better off if you just buy coco from the local market.

cache, cash, cash
cache (KASH) (noun)
1. Stockpile, secret repository: The rebels had a cache of firearms in the mountains.
2. A place for concealment and safekeeping, as of valuables: Not trusting banks any more, Samantha's father hid his money in a cache in the family's bookcase.

The police found the caches of stolen cars in various places in the woods.

3. A small fast-memory storage area in a computer that holds recently accessed data, designed to speed up subsequent access to the same data: Your computer keeps information called cache memory. As the microprocessor processes data, it looks first in the cache memory and if it finds the data there (from a previous reading of data), it does not have to do the more time-consuming reading of data from a larger memory.

Using disk cache memory speeds up computer operations, because accessing data stored in RAM (Random Access Memory) is much faster than accessing data stored on a hard drive.

cash (KASH) (noun)
Payment for goods or services in currency: The purchases were paid for with cash.
cash (KASH) (verb)
To exchange for or to convert into ready money: The store will cash your check.

Hide that cash in the cache.

Cash is a purchasing plan where you pay 100 percent down, and nothing every month from that time onward. If you have any left over, you can always put it into your cache under the mattress.

cacophemism, dysphemism, euphemism
cacophemism (kuh KAH fuh mizm") (noun)
Relating to harsh discordant sounds, words, or phrases: During the radio programs by the talk-show hosts, the reporter noted that they overused one cacophemism after the other, as they used many rough and harsh expressions.
dysphemism (dis FEM izm) (noun)
1. The deliberate substitution of an offensive expression for a neutral one: Wade's speech included a dysphemism followed by others as he uttered "killed" and "died" or "dead" when referring to his wife's mother.
2. Disordered phonation (producing vocal sounds), articulation, or hearing resulting from emotional or mental deficits: Seth's stuttering was an example of dysphemism.
euphemism (YOO fuh miz" uhm) (noun)
Use of a mild, neutral, evasive, or vague term in place of one considered taboo, offensive, blunt, or unpleasant: When Stuart referred to his vocation or job, he described himself with the euphemism "sanitation worker" instead of using the term "garbage collector".

Her friend, John, was prone to using a euphemism from time to time; such as, describing himself as a musician when in fact he just hummed when he was working; however, when he was writing, he would frequently use a dysphemism; such as, "&!#@**%" (translation: "damn") instead of saying the individual was upset.

He rationalized his decisions by citing the use of cacophemism as a legitimate writer’s tool.

caddie, caddy
caddie (KAD ee) (noun)
A golfer's assistant who carries a bag of clubs and performs other duties for a golfer: Sidney was asked to be the caddie for Jim Smith yesterday.

Either caddie or "caddy" refers to a person who carries a golfer's clubs on the golf course.

caddy (KAD ee) (noun)
A container for storing dry tea: Stacy found an antique tea caddy which was used to keep tea in.

After a long day on the greens, the caddie went home and made a pot of tea, selecting his favorite tea from the antique caddy he inherited from his grandmother.

Cain, cane, cane
Cain (KAYN) (noun)
1. The brother of Abel (in the Bible); a murderer: The Bible stated that Cain was jealous of his brother Abel and therefore killed him.
2. Colloquialism, "raising cain" or causing a violent disturbance: During recess, the students raised cain on the playground and the principal had to intervene.
cane (KAYN) (noun)
1. A walking stick that often has a curved handle and is used to help someone to walk: Many years ago it was not unusual to see a gentleman carrying a cane when he was walking in the park.
2. A bamboo-like stem: Blake went out to harvest sugar cane.
cane (KAYN) (verb)
To hit someone with a stick as a form of punishment: In the past, some teachers would cane students who misbehaved.

In the past, a schoolmaster carried a cane which he used to cane unruly students who were raising cain in class.

calendar, calender, colander
calendar (KAL uhn dur) (noun)
A printed series of pages showing the months, weeks, and days of the year: Each year on January 1, Tamara gives her friends and family a new calendar.
calender (KAL uhn dur) (noun)
A machine in which cloth or paper is pressed by rollers: When making paper, part of the process is to use the calender which rolls the paper very thin.
colander (KUHL uhn dur, KAHL uhn dur) (noun)
A bowl that has many small holes or perforations in the bottom used for washing, straining, or draining food: Vera used the colander to drain water from the spaghetti right after it was boiled.

A calendar is the proof that our days are numbered! It is also a system that plans its work a whole year ahead and never fails to finish on time.

—Evan Esar

Colleen's niece learned to use a calender for her paper making course. She made her aunt a wonderful calendar on which she charted the chores required during the harvest season including getting out the colander for straining the cooked tomatoes while she was making sauce.

calk, calk, caulk
calk (KAWK) (noun)
A tapered piece of metal projecting downward from the bottom of a shoe to prevent slipping: During the winter, the horseshoes were made with a calk so the horse would not slip on the ice.
calk (KAWK) (verb)
To put projecting metal on the bottom of each shoe: The farmer wanted a blacksmith to calk the horse’s shoes before winter set in.
caulk (KAWK) (verb)
To fill a crack so it will not leak: At the start of each fishing season, the fishermen will caulk their boats against leaks.

The fisherman tried to caulk his boat before winter set in. Later he went to the blacksmith to have him calk his horse in preparation for the coming winter.

call, caul
call (KAL) (verb)
1. To speak loudly; to shout: The mother went to the door to call her children to come in for dinner.
2. To give a name to someone or something: After the birth of their daughter, her parents agreed to call her Katherine after her grandmother.
caul (KAL) (noun)
A membrane covering the head of a child at birth: There are many superstitions about the caul of a child when it is born.

One of the stories about when Claudia was born was that the doctor had to call to the nurse to be sure that the caul on her head was removed.

callous, callus
callous (KAL uhs) (adjective)
1. Not feeling or showing any concern about the problems or suffering of other people: Damon made a callous remark about those who were injured in the accident.
2. Emotionally hardened; unfeeling: Marlene had a callous indifference for the suffering of her sick neighbor.
callus (KAL uhs) (noun)
A hard, thickened place on the skin; especially, on the hands and feet: Preston had a painful callus on each of his feet from walking so much.

Rudy's impatient attitude was callous towards his friend who had a painful callus on his toe.

caloric, choleric
caloric (kuh LOR ik) (adjective)
Relating to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree of Celsius under certain atmospheric conditions: In chemistry, the students studied the caloric tables presented in their textbooks.
choleric (KAL uh rik, kuh LER ik ) (adjective)
Hot tempered, easily moved to excessive anger: David's red face gave away the choleric nature of his personality.

The politician’s diet often consisted of foods with a high caloric level which unfortunately seemed to contribute to his choleric personality.

Calvary, cavalier, cavalry
Calvary (KAL vuh ree) (noun)
1. When this word is capitalized, it refers to the hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified: Christ was crucified on Calvary, or Golgotha, which was near the site of ancient Jerusalem.
2. When this word is not capitalized, it refers to a sculptured representation of the Crucifixion, usually erected in the open air: When they approached the church, they could see the calvary that had been erected there to symbolize Christ's Crucifixion.
cavalier (kav" uh LEER) (adjective)
A gesture or offhand dismissal of important matters or showing no concern for something which is important or serious: Tonya has a cavalier attitude about spending money.

Wilbur and Glenda have a cavalier disregard for the rights of others in their neighborhood.

cavalry (KAV uhl ree) (noun)
Members of the army who are assigned duties that require great mobility, either by horseback, motor vehicles, or helicopters: When Tara enlisted in the army, her preference was to serve in the cavalry.

Loretta's aunt who was in the military cavalry, and was stationed in the Middle East, often told her about visiting Calvary during a special trip.

It upset her that some of the other visitors seemed to have a very cavalier attitude at the site.

can, may, May, might
can (KAN) (auxiliary verb)
To be able to do something, to have the ability to do something: Luke is sure that if he studies hard enough he can pass the exams at school tomorrow.
may (MAY) (auxiliary verb)
1. To be allowed or permitted to do something: Mary said, "You may tell me your opinion, but that doesn't mean that I will change my mind."
2. Used to indicate that something is possible or probable: Greg mentioned, "If you work hard now, you may end up sitting in the supervisor's chair some day.
May (MAY) (noun)
When capitalized, the fifth month on the Julian calendar: Carol's garden is always spectacular during the month of May just before the weather becomes really hot.
might (MIGHT) (auxiliary verb)
1. Used to express that something is possible: Mrs. Smith said, "We might go if they ask us, but then again we might not."
2. Used to talk about a possible condition that does not or did not actually exist: Steve said, "If you were older, you might understand what your mother is talking about."

Do you think it might be possible that I may write my examination tomorrow? I know I can study tonight and be ready by then.

canapé, canopy
canapé (KAN uh pay, KAN uh pee) (noun)
A cracker or piece of bread spread with a seasoned mixture of fish, cheese, etc., and which is often served at a party: A canapé for a variety of taste choices was served on platters at the party.
canopy (KAN uh pee) (noun)
1. A covering fixed over a bed, throne, entrance, etc., as a decoration or shelter: A crowd gathered under the theater canopy which extended over the sidewalk.
2. Sometimes used figuratively: The canopy of the stars was wonderful to see.

At the reception for Heidi's friend, the caterers served lovely canapés from trays that were on the trestle tables under the canopy erected on the lawn.

candid, candied
candid (KAN did) (adjective)
Expressing opinions and feelings in an honest and sincere way: Andres was quite candid about his past life.
candied (KAN deed) (adjective)
Sugared; cooked with sugar until reaching a translucent appearance: To make the Christmas cakes, the two women made their own candied fruit.

The chef was very candid with his cooking staff as he admonished them to use candied violet flowers when decorating the summer cakes which they would be preparing for sale.

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