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

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

The day-to-day arena of spoken and written communication has always been a perilous place, fraught with endless possibilities for embarrassing blunders by even the most wary.

People may have a fine grasp of grammar, be proficient with spelling and syntax, and still occasionally find themselves in a quandary about which word to use. These days it seems that those of us who want to be precise are having a harder time than ever because there is so much which is working against us.

For one thing, there is the constant bombardment of sloppy English that we are subjected to from what we hear and read; and not just what's overheard on the bus or read on the walls of buildings.

We are also subjected to the many errors audible on TV or radio and published in every conceivable kind of printed matter; especially, in blogs and other presentations on some internet sites. These are strong influences, and if we hear and see a word misused often enough, it takes on a certain "correctness".

—Compiled from the "Introduction" of
Confusion Reigns by James S. Harrison;
St. Martin's Press; New York; 1987.

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

Once again, we want you to know that efforts have been made to help you grasp the meanings of the following and the other word groups 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.

decent, descent, dissent, dissent
decent (DEE suhnt) (adjective)
Suitable, fit, or proper: The workers were on strike for decent and more adequate wages.
descent (di SENT) (noun)
1. The act of going down; a downward drop: The hikers found that their descent was very treacherous because of the loose rocks and tree limbs on the path.
2. A downward incline or passage; a slope: The mountain goats followed the steep descent leading to the meadow below.
dissent (di SENT) (noun)
A disagreement: The fact that Jim and Frank had an occasional dissent, and did not see eye to eye on some subjects, did not spoil their friendship.
dissent (di SENT) (verb)
To disagree, to contradict, to differ in opinion or feeling, or to wrangle: During the debate among the candidates, they often would dissent, or dispute, with each other over certain issues.

The two members of government would often dissent with each other about legal matters; however, they continued to be friends.

Laura wore decent climbing clothes for the challenging descent of the mountain and she certainly didn't dissent with her friend's opinion that it was very scary at times.

decertification, desertification
decertification (dee SUHR tuh fuh kay" shuhn) (noun)
1. A procedure under which employees of a firm can disassociate themselves from a specific union, or a company can withdraw a union's official recognition as the exclusive bargaining representative of the firm's employees: The automobile company may have to use decertification of unions in order to cut down on operational expenses.
2. A process that causes something to be no longer approved or accepted: The government had to use decertification of the agency because it was not performing its functions as intended.
desertification (di zur" tuh fi KAY shuhn) (noun)
1. A process by which an area changes to, or becomes, a desert: The people must be aware of further desertification of their western land areas.
2. The rapid depletion of plant life and the loss of topsoil at desert boundaries and in semiarid regions; usually, caused by a combination of drought and the overexploitation of grasses and other vegetation by people: The international organization was praised for its efforts to prevent further desertification in Africa.

The decertification of the land management company came about because of the desertification of the rich farm land as a result of mismanagement of water resources.

decimate, demolish, destroy
decimate (DES uh mayt") (verb)
1. To eliminate or to get rid of a large number of plants, animals, people, etc.: If we do not get rain soon, it will decimate the farm crops in this area.
2. To severely damage or destroy a large part of something: The government's budget cuts will decimate public services in many small towns.
demolish (di MAHL ish) (verb)
1. To eliminate credibility: The gossip in the office threatened to demolish the reputation of the manager.
2. To break up into pieces or to tear down: The construction company used large equipment to demolish the abandoned building.

The contractors will demolish the old factory to make way for a new parking lot and a large quantity of explosives will be used to demolish it.

destroy (di STROI) (verb)
To spoil or ruin the condition of an object: Flooding in the basement will destroy the furniture that is stored there.

Olivia plans to demolish the old shed in the back. She knows it will destroy the home of a colony of raccoons; in fact, it will actually decimate their numbers in the neighborhood.

decisive, incisive
decisive (di SIGH siv) (adjective)
1. A reference to being able to make or to formulate solutions or answers to a situation: Part of Mason's job was to take decisive actions regarding difficult problems.
2. Pertaining to causing something to end in a particular way: The poverty of Noah's childhood played a decisive role in his adult life.
incisive (in SIGH siv) (adjective)
1. Clear, direct, insightful: Emma's incisive comments helped to bring the debate to a close.
2. Characteristic of being able to explain difficult ideas clearly and confidently: Chloe is known for her incisive mind and quick wit.

Abigail's incisive mind was helpful in her new position when she had to establish leadership and to make decisive recommendations to her team of colleagues.

decompose, discompose
decompose (dee" kuhm POHZ) (verb)
1. To undergo a chemical change resulting in rot or decay: Jason put the vegetable trimmings in the garden to decompose and fertilize the soil.
2. To cause something; such as, dead plants and the bodies of dead animals, to be slowly destroyed and broken down by natural processes, chemicals, etc.: Bacteria and fungi help to decompose organic matter.
discompose (dis" kuhm POHZ) (verb)
To make someone lose his or her usual state of calm; to agitate or to unsettle and so to put into a state of disorder: The bad news about Olivia's mother could only discompose or upset us.

A visitor observed Beethoven seated at the piano earnestly erasing the notes from a score in front of him. As the man approached, Beethoven exclaimed, "Please, don’t interrupt me because I’m trying to decompose."

When Emily went for a hike earlier today, she discovered a human body which had been left to decompose under a tree. Seeing these bodily remains caused her to discompose and so she went straight to the police to tell them what she found.

decorum, propriety
decorum (di KOHR uhm) (noun)
Good taste and behavior in both appearance and personal conduct: Elena was the epitome of decorum in all her business undertakings.
propriety (pruh PRIGH i tee) (noun)
That which is socially acceptable in terms of manners, conduct, and manner of speaking: Randal's behavior would not offend the propriety of the professional organization to which he hoped to belong.

Proper decorum when attending a wedding is expected because there are certain social rules that must be observed and so we should act with propriety.

decree, degree
decree (di KREE) (noun)
An official order, edict, or decision; as of a church, government, or court: The government issued a decree to the effect that everyone should conserve water during the summer.
degree (di GREE) (noun)
1. Any of successive steps or states in a process or series; relative intensity: In the television court room drama, the lawyers gave the witness the third degree, asking intense questions.
2. A unit of measure on a scale: The students could measure the degrees of heat generated during their experiment using the temperature scale.
3. An academic title given to students who complete a prescribed course of study at a college or university, etc.: Ernestine was very proud of her science degree from the famous university.

The decree from the university announced to the world that Darin had achieved his academic degree in science during which he discovered a new degree for measuring vapor.

deduce, deduct
deduce (di DOOS, di DYOOS) (verb)
1. To trace the course of: Dr. Jenkins asked his intern, "How would you deduce the course of the illness?"
2. To infer by logical reasoning: The medical student stated that he could deduce that the patient had a cold based on his temperature and fever.
3. To conclude from known facts or general principles: The police inspector was able to deduce who was responsible for the accident based on his inspection of the actual scene.
deduct (di DUKT) (verb)
To subtract or to take away: Saul's employer will deduct the taxes from his pay check before it is deposited in the bank.

Dewey said, "I deduct from your statement that you are unable to deduce the cause of my friend's illness and I think that it is essential that another specialist must be able to deduce something."

defective, deficient
defective (di FEK tiv) (adjective)
Referring to something which is missing an element that is essential or critical for functioning properly: Bert had to return his vacuum cleaner to the store where he bought it because it was defective.
deficient (di FISH uhnt) (adjective)
Not up to typical expectations or standards; lacking in essential elements: The doctor stated that the tests indicated Chelsea was deficient in iron and needed to take a supplement.

Ethan noticed the defective valve in the engine. This is definitely deficient in terms of what he had expected from the manufacturer.

defence, defence, defense, defense
defence (di FENS), (a British, Canadian spelling) (noun)
1. The act of making or keeping safe from danger, attack, or harm: The army mounted a good defense against the invaders.
2. The act of speaking or writing in support of someone or something which is being attacked or criticized: We listened to a passionate defense of the governor's decision.
defence (di FENS) (a British, Canadian spelling) (adjective)
Descriptive of a legal case which argues that a person who is being sued or accused of a crime is innocent: The defence attorney told the jury that the prosecution had not proven its case.
defense (di FENS), (the U.S. spelling ) (noun)
1. The action of protecting from or withstanding an attack or harm: A defense was set up along the boarder so that it could be safeguarded against the enemy.
2. Something said in order to support a person who is being condemned or blamed for something: The student stood firmly in his defense against the teacher's accusation that he was copying from another student during the test.
defense (di FENS) (the U.S. spelling) (adjective)
Relating to a legal case which is set forth by the side being indicted or sued in a lawsuit: While preparing the defense strategy, the lawyer had to know all of the facts that the defendant could tell him.

For the spelling bee Percy was asked to spell defense and he spelled it d-e-f-e-n-c-e.

His U.S. teacher announced: WRONG!

Percy explained that he had just moved from Canada and that is the way they spell defence; however, his teacher said that she was sorry, but this is a U.S. spelling contest and so it should be spelled as defense.

defendant, plaintiff
defendant (di FEN duhnt, di FEN dant") (noun)
In a legal situation, the individual who must respond to an application before the courts to resolve a situation: The defendant answered the lawyer's questions to the best of his abilities.
plaintiff (PLAYN tif) (noun)
A person who starts a legal action to resolve a legal situation involving his or her rights: The plaintiff hired a lawyer to help to settle his demand for compensation after the accident.

When Toby was studying architecture, he had to design a courtroom and it was necessary that he consider the needs of the judge, of the defendant who would be responding to questioning; as well as, of the plaintiff, who would be worried about his rights and be there with his lawyer.

defensible, defensive
defensible (di FEN suh buhl) (adjective)
Concerning that which can be protected: Nadine's innocence of the crime was defensible because she had not been present when the murder took place.
defensive (di FEN siv) (adjective)
Committed to resisting or protecting a situation from defeat or harm: The football team played a strong defensive game, scoring the last touchdown to win the game.

The debating team assumed a defensive position, arguing that freedom of speech is a defensible right of the students at the university.

defer, differ
defer (di FUR) (verb)
1. To put off or to choose to do something at a later time: It is so easy to defer major housecleaning until another day, but it always catches up with just about everyone.
2. To yield to an authority: The social worker agreed to defer to the experience of her supervisor.
differ (DIF ur) (verb)
1. To disagree: As best friends, they would often differ on their interpretations of the books they had read.

Van and Dominick almost always seem to differ with each other on political issues.

2. To be unlike: Even though Bethany and Sadie were twins, they tended to differ from each other in hobbies and sports.

The parents differ in their approach as to how their children should be disciplined.

Krystal said that she must differ with her tax preparer because she did submit her application to defer her taxes until the following year.

deference, difference
deference (DEF ur uhns) (noun)
1. A yielding in opinion, judgment or wishes: The junior lawyer showed deference to his senior partner by agreeing with his request to adjourn.
2. Courteous regard or respect for someone or something: Clay was taught to show deference to people who were as old as his grandparents.
difference (DIF ur uhns, DIF ruhns) (noun)
Not alike, dissimilar; not the same; the quality that makes one person or thing unlike another one: The difference between the two objects on the table was difficult to notice at first glance.

There's a striking difference in the sisters' opinions on the subject.

The deference that Steve's cousins have shown his aunt highlighted the difference in the manners between them and the rude students at the school where she taught.

defile, defile, defile
defile (di FIGHL) (verb)
1. To make filthy or dirty; to pollute: The town sewer was known to defile the river with sewage.
2. To take away or to ruin the purity, honor, or goodness of something or someone important: The vulgar talk of some talk-show hosts defiles the normal acceptability of public communication.
defile (di FIGHL) (verb)
To march off in a line: The students were told to defile into the auditorium for a special presentation.
defile (di FIGHL) (noun)
A narrow passage through mountains; a gorge: The train went through the defile of the mountains as it progressed to the destination.

When the group of hikers were told to defile down the hill and across the defile at the bottom of the valley, it soon became apparent that they would defile their shoes with mud.

Pointing to explanation of homonyms, homophones, and homographs, etc. Confusing Words: Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs; explained and demonstrated.

Pointing back to Confusing Words Quizzes, Part AConfusing Words: Units, Groups A to Z.

Pointing back to Confusing Words Quizzes Confusing Words: Vocabulary Quizzes Listed.