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

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

English can be very confusing; for example, a house burns up as it burns down, a form is being filled in as it is being filled out, and an alarm goes off by going on. How about when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible?

As you examine the groups of words in this unit, you will find many examples of confusions; sometimes, just one or two letters in a word can change its meaning completely. There are also times when two different words get confused because their meanings apply to things that are very similar.

Efforts have been made to help you grasp the meanings of various 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, [email protected], as the address in your e-mail heading.

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

accelerator, exhilarator
accelerator (ak SEL ur ay" tur) (noun)
A pedal or other device to make something go faster, to speed up, quicken the pace: Claude suddenly stepped too hard on the accelerator of his car and ran it into a tree.
exhilarator (eg ZIL uh ray" tur) (noun)
That which cheers up, enlivens, stimulates, and delights: The manager of the hotel told Jim and Jane that it would be a real exhilarator if they were to go for a walk in the beautiful woods nearby and get some fresh air.

Stepping on the accelerator and moving at great speed is often an exhilarator to people; that is, until they get caught in a speed trap.

accent, ascent, assent
accent (AK sent") (noun)
1. A stress on a syllable to aid in the pronunciation of words; a stress, an emphasis: The word "woman" has its accent on the first syllable.
2. Pronunciation, enunciation, or modulation of speech: The famous movie actor speaks with a French accent.
3. A hint, a touch, a detail: The room was painted white with just a slightly green accent.
ascent (uh SENT) (noun)
1. A rising or climbing; an upward movement: As a construction worker, Elmer, made a careful ascent up to the roof of the building.

The ascent to the top of the mountain was difficult for Jared, Adrian, and Javier.

2. Incline, slope: The road made a sharp ascent to the top of the hill.
3. Advancement, progress: Marie's parents were amazed about her ascent from being a secretary to becoming president of the company in just five years.
assent (uh SENT) (verb)
To comply or to agree to something; to consent: The workers will certainly assent to an increase in wages.

Romeo was willing to assent to Juliet's request that he come again.

With the assent of the board of directors, the new board room was painted green with an accent or two of white highlighting the ascent of the ceiling to the skylight in the center.

accept; except, excepted; excepted; expect
accept (ahk SEPT) (verb)
1. To receive with consent, to agree to, to consent to, to acknowledge: James decided to accept Jill's invitation to the party.
2. To take what is offered, receive willingly: Sherry was happy to accept Rita's offering of a cool drink on such a hot day.
except, excepted (ik SEPT, ik SEPT'd) (verb)
To leave out, excluding, or showing exclusion: Jim's mother told him to put everything on the shelf into the box, but to except the vase from being put there.

The professor announced that no one in the class will be excepted from taking the test.

What Sally said about some people applies to men in general, present company excepted.

excepted (ik SEPT'd) (adjective)
Not included in a group nor in a collection: What Irene said about some businesses applies to companies in general; however, she felt that her company was excepted.

expect (ik SPEKT) (verb)
1. To look forward to, plan on, look for, anticipate: The skiers expect deep snow overnight.
2. To assume, to presume, to calculate, or to contemplate: Can Edith still expect to see Jerome here anytime soon?

What do you expect from us when everyone except you can accept the decision?

access, assess, excess
access (AK ses") (noun)
1. Way of approach, a means of reaching, passageway, entry: Switzerland has access to the sea by way of the Rhine River.
2. A way of getting to something or someone, admittance; entrance: The thief gained access to the vault.

The hallway offers good access to the bedroom.

assess (uh SES) (verb)
1. To set an estimated value on property, etc. for taxation; estimate, appraise: The local tax office decided to assess the new houses.
2. To judge, evaluate, appraise, determine: General Jones will assess the situation and call for reinforcements if needed.
excess (ik SES) (noun)
1. Surpassing limits, surplus, extra, overflow: The excess of furniture was stored in the cellar.
2. Superabundance, surplus, overabundance, too much, oversupply: The teacher thought little Bobby had an excess of energy.

There is an excess of poverty, hunger, and suffering in the world.

Some people always confuse access and excess. Access is a way of getting to something or someone; excess is a surplus, a state of overabundance: "How could the thief have gained access to the vault?" "Dieting will take off your excess weight."

Excess is what some people always enjoy drinking to.

—Evan Esar

Darryl and Ted wanted to assess the situation and decide what they were going to do next because since there was no access to the compartment, they couldn't pump out the excess water.

accessing, assessing
accessing (ak SES ing) (verb)
Entering, making an entrée: The thief was accessing the vault while the political rallies were taking place.
assessing (uh SES ing) (verb)
Evaluating property or a situation: The military officers were assessing the battle reports so they could decide what to do next.

When Jessie assesses real estate, he often finds himself accessing the property so he can see firsthand all the details about the conditions of what is available.

accidental, incidental, accidentally, accidently
accidental (ak" suh DEN t'l) (adjective)
Happening by chance; belonging but not essential; unplanned, unintentional, unpremeditated: The meeting of Adrian and Ashley on the street was purely accidental.
incidental (in" si DEN t'l) (adjective)
Happening as a result or in connection with something more important; unexpected: The incidental costs of repairs for the car added up to much more than expected.
accidentally (ak" suh DEN tuh lee) (adverb)
Happening in a way that is not planned, intended, nor expected: Dr. Darren decided that Crystal died accidentally, not by any intentional cause.
accidently (ak" suh DENT li)
This pronunciation and spelling of "accidentally" is not correct.

"Accidentally" is often mispronounced and misspelled.

The correct word has five syllables ac-ci-den-tal-ly: The use of accidently is considered a gross error and displays a lack of knowledge of what is supposed to be the correct spelling and pronunciation.

James accidentally tallied the incidental car repair costs inaccurately and scared Jane silly.

Later, James tried to explain the accidental nature of his calculations to Jane which greatly relieved her.

acclamation, acclimation
acclamation (ak" luh MAY shuhn) (noun)
1. Loud applause, shout of approval: The queen received an acclamation from the crowd.
2. A voice vote, shout of approval: Frank Ferguson was elected president of the union by acclamation.
acclimation (ak" li MAY shuhn, ak" luh MAY shuhn) (noun)
1. Adaptation to a different climate, environment, situation, or circumstance: More time will be needed for the acclimation of the new workers and their equipment.
2. Adjustment of an organism to its natural climatic environment: Now that winter is over, the spring acclimation of earthworms will proceed naturally.

There was no need for polling the delegates because they nominated Madeline for president with a thunderous acclamation. In fact, she found that acclimation to the suddenly new heights of power was not at all difficult to experience.

acentric, eccentric
acentric (ay SEN trik) (adjective)
Not near the center, not central: The sculptor used an acentric wheel to grind off the rough places on the edges of his metal sculpture.
eccentric (ik SEN trik, ek SEN trik) (adjective)
1. Departing from a recognized, conventional, or established norm or pattern: The bookstore owner was a kind but eccentric woman.
2. Strange or unusual: Jared, the scientist, had eccentric behaviors and ideas that were weird as indicated by his eccentric clothes.
3. Not following a perfectly circular path: The asteroid was moving in an eccentric orbit around the star.

The pictures which the eccentric artist painted appeared to have an acentric balance that puzzled the patrons of the gallery.

-aceous, -acious, -atious

This confusing ending is pronounced the same in all three spellings.

-aceous (AY shuhs) A suffix that becomes an (adjective)
Characterized by, relating to a group; such as, a plant family. Of the common words, only curvaceous ends in -aceous; however, a great many technical terms from botany, zoology, chemistry, medicine, etc. have this spelling: herbaceous, sebaceous, setaceous, etc.:

The biology class went on a hike to collect the leaves from several herbaceous plants in the park.

-acious (AY shuhs) A suffix that becomes an (adjective)
Full of, characterized by, or tending toward. The most frequent form in use is -acious: audacious, gracious, pugnacious, etc.:

Billy's teachers observed that he was a pugnacious boy when he was with other children on the playground.

-atious (AY shuhs) A suffix that becomes an (adjective)
Inclined to "-ation" or, some say that the suffix is actually "-ous" and means "full of". The following end in -atious: disputatious, flirtatious, ostentatious, vexatious. Note that for each of these there is a corresponding noun in "-ation": disputation, flirtation, ostentation, and vexation.:

Carol's friend, Isabel, is very flirtatious or playful with boys.

Keep in mind that "-acious" is more than likely to be the correct ending whenever there is any serious doubt as to which suffix to use.

If Ivan is very cautious, he will be gracious to the botanist who is studying the herbaceous growth patterns on the local hillside.

acetic; ascetic; aesthetic, esthetic
acetic (uh SEE tik) (adjective)
1. Sour, acerbic: These pickles are too acetic; that is, too sour!
2. A reference to vinegar or other acid characteristics: The acetic flavor of vinegar is used in salad dressings to give them a little punch.
ascetic (uh SET ik) (adjective)
A life of rigorous self-discipline and self-denial; an abstainer: Some people believe that most of the early saints chose to live an ascetic lifestyle.
aesthetic, esthetic (es THET ik) (adjective)
Characterized by a heightened sensitivity to beauty: There are practical as well as aesthetic reasons for planting trees.
Showing good taste or being artistic.
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Sometimes a very ascetic person can develop an acetic personality which spoils the natural aesthetic potential of the individual.

acronym, anagram
acronym (AK ruh nim) (noun)
A word formed from the first (or first few) letters of a series of words; such as, "radar" (radio detecting and ranging): Some people are confused by what appears to be one acronym after another; especially, on the internet and by government organizations.
anagram (AN uh gram") (noun)
A word or phrase made from another by rearranging its letters (Ex.: "now" can become "won"; "dread" can be transformed into "adder"): The anagram is just one of many kinds of word games that are around.

The television station issued a challenge to its viewers to suggest an acronym which would be the name of the new program for the fall that would feature an anagram contest.

acts; ax, axe; ax, axe
acts (AKS) (noun)
1. Things that are done; deeds: The kind stranger did a series of acts of kindness for the poor woman.
2. A process of doing certain things: The criminal was caught in three acts of stealing.
3. The main divisions of a play or opera: The play had five acts.
4. Displays of affected or pretended behavior: Tina is not really angry; she has been putting on these acts to get attention.
ax or axe (AKS) (noun)
A tool with a flat, sharp blade fastened on a handle, used for chopping, splitting, and shaping wood: Paul Bunyan used his ax to chop wood for the fireplace.
ax or axe (AKS) (verb)
To be dismissed from a job; to be fired (informal): Jill got the ax because she wouldn't work overtime when asked to do so by her supervisor.

Will companies axe ad spending next year?

There were three acts in the play; at the end of the second act, the murderer had used an axe to ax the victim.

acuity, acumen, acute
acuity (uh KYOO uh tee) (noun)
Related to "acute", with its sense of sharpness, acuity is used with reference to any human faculty and applied to any of the five senses as well as of the mind: Senator Mathews is thought to be a man of great political acuity.

There is no doubt that tiredness affects visual acuity.

acumen (uh KYOO muhn) (noun)
1. Mental sharpness, intelligence, sagacity: Susan Bretson is a woman who has considerable business and financial acumen.
2. Quickness in understanding and dealing with a situation; keen insight: The student contestant had the acumen to figure out which version of the homograph to spell correctly.
acute (uh KYOOT) (adjective)
1. Having a sharp point: Angles of less than 90 degrees are called acute angles.
2. Extremely severe and sharp; such as, an intense pain: Tyrone is suffering from acute appendicitis.
3. Keenly perceptive or discerning, ingenious: Einstein is said to have been a man of uncommonly acute intelligence.

Megan's natural acumen in science suggested that she had an acute sense of smell and good visual acuity.

ad, add (s) (noun); ads, adds (pl)
ad (AD) (noun)
Short for advertisement: Jim's employer placed an ad in the paper for additional workers.
add (AD) (verb)
1. To find the sum of numbers or quantities: Shane and Clara tried to add the total number of people who were at the party.
2. To go on to say or to write more: Helen said goodbye and wanted to add that she had a pleasant visit with Darren and Yvonne.
3. To join one thing to another so as to increase the number, quantity, or the importance of something: Lynn decided to add a new wing to her house.

Francisco and Thelma placed an ad in the paper because they wanted to add a pool to their yard; however, after they decided to add all of the expenses, they found it much more feasible to invest in a wading pool instead.

adapt, adept, adopt
adapt (uh DAPT) (verb)
1. To make suitable by transforming or adjusting; to conform to: The chameleon can adapt to its surroundings by changing its color.
The eminent sociologist could not adapt himself to such a primitive society.
2. To fit for a new use; rework, convert, make suitable, modify, alter: The team of producers will adapt the drama from a short story.
adept (uh DEPT) (adjective)
Skillful, adroit, proficient: Milly is adept at organizational work while her husband is adept in needlecraft.
adopt (uh DAHPT) (verb)
1. To choose as one’s own child: Many childless couples adopt children.
2. To take up and use (an idea, a practice, etc.) as one’s own: The new CEO wanted to adopt a Latin motto for the company business.
3. To accept and to put into effect; formally approve: Schools should adopt new methods of teaching English vocabulary if they want to enhance the word knowledge of their students.

Jennifer proved herself to be very adept at learning to adapt to new situations; especially, when her company decided to adopt new regulations for the employee's parking lot.

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