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.

agnostic, agnostic
agnostic (ag NAHS tik) (noun)
Someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God or who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism: At the convention, Lew, the featured speaker, said that he was an agnostic; that is, he did not know if there was a God or not; he simply did not know.
agnostic (ag NAHS tik) (adjective)
Doubtful, unsure, or non-committed about something: President Barack Obama said he is agnostic about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.
—"Obama 'Agnostic' on Deficit Cuts, Won’t Prejudge Tax Increases"
By Rich Miller; Business Week; February 11, 2010.

Agnes apparently held agnostic beliefs about her politics because she lacked strong beliefs about supporting the views of the major party.

Alfred, the new parishioner, was agnostic about whether anyone could be a complete agnostic.

agnostic, atheist, deist, theist
agnostic (ag NOS tik) (noun)
Someone who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God, but does not deny the possibility that God exists: At the theology lecture, there were several people from diverse religious backgrounds making presentations; for example, William indicated that he was an agnostic and explained that there was no proof that God existed.
atheist (AY thee ist) (noun)
A disbeliever, denier of God's existence: Annie stated that she believed in the existence of God, but that her brother, James, was an atheist and didn't have such a belief.
deist (DEE ist) (noun)
Someone who believes in God based on reason rather than revelation and involves the view that God has set the universe in motion but does not interfere with how it exists: Harry is a deist who believes in God as the creator of the universe but that humans are allowed to determine the kind of existence they feel is appropriate whether for good or for bad.
theist (THEE ist) (noun)
Someone who believes in a personal God as creator and ruler of the universe, but not necessarily accompanied by a belief in divine revelation; such as, through the Bible: Josie is a member of a theist group believing in God but not necessarily as depicted in the Bible.

Two friends, a theist and a deist, got together to debate whether being an atheist has anything in common with those who profess to be agnostic.

aid, aide
aid (AYD) (verb)
1. To help, assist, give a helping hand: Greg Darmaga, a columnist in the local newspaper, wrote that there are not enough organizations that give aid to the poor.
2. To foster, promote; make easy: Sometimes a good dictionary is a good tool to aid in the improvement of a person's English language.
aide (AYD) (noun)
An assistant or an adjutant: The colonel served as an aide (aide-de-camp) or military assistant and a confidential assistant, for General Roberts.

If Renata continues to behave in an unruly manner, no one will come to her aid; but last week, she was fortunate because her doctor sent a very talented aide to give her the medication that she needed.

ail, ale
ail (AYL) (verb)
1. To feel sick, be ill, have pain: In the days of traveling medicine men; such as, Horace Henry, they often proclaimed: "This medicine is good for whatever may ail you."
2. To cause uneasiness or pain; to afflict, to sicken: Because Roberta was showing a little sadness in her demeanor, her colleagues at work were wondering what could possibly ail her.
ale (AYL) (noun)
A bitter beer; a fermented alcoholic beverage containing malt and hops, similar to but heavier than beer: When George went to the store, he had a thirst for ale instead of the more bland lite beer.

If the football crowd drinks too much ale at the game, they will begin to ail before they get home.

air, air, ere, err, heir
air (AIR) (noun)
1. The atmosphere we breathe: Air is composed primarily of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor.
2. Biosphere, stratosphere, sky: The rocket blasted off into the air.
3. Wind, breeze, draft, current: When Andrea Gill opened the window, cold air blew in through the open window.
air (AIR) (verb)
To place something in an open area where there is a breeze to make it cool, dry, or clean: Leon's mother taught her children to put the blankets out on the line to air out.
ere (AIR) (preposition)
Prior to; before in time: Douglas and Karin will have a warm fire ere nightfall and so ere long they will be comfortable.

This is an old-fashioned or a literary term.

err (ER, UR, or AIR) (verb)
1. To make a mistake, slip up, miscalculate: Banks rarely err in figuring a checking account balance.
2. To deviate from an established moral code; to transgress, sin, misbehave: To err is human, to forgive divine.
heir (AIR; not HAIR) (noun)
1. Someone who is legally entitled to inherit and to own an estate after the previous owner’s death; a beneficiary, an inheritor: The millionaire’s only heir was his son, Myron.
2. A person who succeeds or is in line to succeed to a hereditary rank, title, or office: The king did not have an heir when he died.

An heir is someone who may be worth more financially than others and still be worthless.

—Evan Esar

Angie, the heir to the science project started to err when she wrote that ere there was air, the earth was surrounded by carbon dioxide.

aisle, I'll, isle
aisle (IGHL) (noun)
A passageway or corridor; for example: a narrow aisle between two rows of seats; a pathway: Each aisle between the stalls at the market was crammed with people.
I'll (IGHL) (pronoun-verb)
A contraction of "I will" or "I shall": I’ll do it as soon as I can.
isle (IGHL) (noun)
A very small island, an islet: Jeb Smith bought his own private isle so he and his family could build a house and have more privacy.

Charles and his family wanted to go to that beautiful isle where they could enjoy their vacation.

I'll bet after they walk down the aisle, the bride and groom will leave for that distant isle they have talked about so often.

alimentary, elementary
alimentary (al" uh MEN tuh ree, al" uh MEN tree) (adjective)
Connected with food, nutrition: The surgeon removed an obstruction in Sam's alimentary canal so it could properly provide nourishment for his body again.
elementary (el" uh MEN tuh ree, el" uh MEN tree) (adjective)
Connected with rudiments, fundamentals: Zack has just started going to elementary school.

When Victor was in elementary school, he said that he learned more than he ever wanted to know about the workings of the alimentary canals in earth worms.

all mighty, almighty
all mighty (awl MIGH tee) (adverb)
When "all" of those in a group are in agreement, or disagreement, about something: We're all mighty glad to see you again, Gordon.
almighty (awl MIGH tee) (adjective)
Having absolute power; all-powerful: Judaism is said to be the first religion to teach the existence of a supreme deity having almighty power.

Pastor Marcus shouted that we are all mighty glad to know the power of the almighty presence of the Lord.

all ready, already
all ready (awl RED ee) (adjective)
Everyone or everything is prepared; quite ready in every particular; completely ready: Sally was all ready to start her next job.

Helder, Wilfredo, and Nelson will go to the office when they are all ready.

already (awl RED ee) (adverb)
1. By this time; soon: Judy, are you finished with your work already?
2. Before this time: Chris and Zofia arrived at noon but Connie had already gone.

When Chesley arrived, the bus had already gone.

Letty was all ready to go on her trip, but when she went to the bus station, she found out that the bus had already gone and so she had to wait two more hours for the next one.

all right, all-right, alright
all right (awl RIGHT) (adjective)
1. Healthy, in good health; safe, uninjured: Joan was all right in spite of her accident.
2. Satisfactorily, acceptably: The new chocolate cake recipe turned out to be all right.
3. Yes, very well: "All right," Joel said, "I'll do it just as you want it to be done".
all-right (awl RIGHT) (adjective)
When hyphenated, this is the spelling for the slang adjective: Jim’s an all-right guy.

This is generally considered to be the only acceptable "exception" to "all right".

This is never an acceptable spelling for "all right"; regardless of how many times you may see it misspelled in print.

Alright, although often misused by many people, it is still considered substandard English!

Alright's Not All Right

By day and night
I sing this song:
"All right's all right;
Alright's all wrong."
—Willard R. Espy

Lee's sister made a new cake recipe which came out all right, then when his niece took the cake to her office, her colleagues exclaimed, "That cake is all-right!".

all together, altogether
all together (awl" tuh GETH uhr) (adverb)
Everyone in a group: When their parents got home, they found their boys all together in the living room watching TV.
The three friends were all together for the whole day.
All together now, everyone, let's sing!
altogether (awl" tuh GETH uhr) (adverb)
1. To the whole extent; completely; entirely: The house was altogether destroyed by the fire.

Some of the constituents were not altogether pleased by the outcome of the election.

2. On the whole; considering everything: Altogether, Meagan was sorry that the accident happened.
3. Informal, naked; nude: When Jorge's mother opened the door, there her little boy stood in his altogether undressed condition.

The garage at the home of the famous skater, Pearce, was altogether destroyed by fire; but he announced that his gold medals were all together in a safe place.

all ways, always
all ways (AWL wayz) (noun)
1. Every existing possibility, every method: Angela Brown investigated all ways that were possible to find her missing sister.
2. The entire distance, from start to finish: All ways will be checked by the school staff to see what they need to do to for the poor child.
3. Every method, all possible techniques: The teachers tried in all ways to interest Mary in studying.
always (AWL wiz, AWL wayz) (adverb)
1. Every time, on every occasion, regularly, consistently: The office staff always start working at eight o'clock in the morning; however, their supervisor is always late.
2. Eternally, forever, perpetually: Abelard vowed that he would always love Heloise.
3. At any time; in any event: Jacob was told by the counselor that he could always get another job if he wanted to.

Even though Kimberly believed that she could always get a new job, she found out that she had to explore all ways of getting new employment; including advertising and talking with friends, before she could get the job that she really wanted.

all, all, all, awl
all (AWL) (pronoun)
The whole of something; the entire contents of: When Bradley and Roy came home, they drank all the milk that was left in the "fridge".
all (AWL) (adverb)
Every one of, each of; the whole number of: All of the people had to be checked before they could get into the aircraft.
all (AWL) (noun)
Everything, every item; the whole quantity: Come on, Dustin, is that all that you can carry?
awl (AWL) (noun)
A tool for making holes in wood, leather, etc.: The repairman used an awl to make a new shoelace holes for the old shoes.

Gerome used an awl to make all the holes in the lathing for Jill's front porch.

allay; alley, alleys; alloy; ally; ally
allay (uh LAY) (verb)
1. To make something less severe or strong: The managers of the store tried to allay fears that some of the workers would lose their jobs.
2. To rest, to relieve: Medicine will allay a person's pain.
alley, alleys (AL ee) (noun)
1. A passageway, a narrow thoroughfare, narrow backstreet: There was a busy street in front of the house and an alley behind it.
2. Narrow passage: This alley leads nowhere.

Alley follows the simple rule of adding an “s” to become a plural; alley, alleys: Cats prowled the alleys of the town.

alloy (AL oi", uh LOI) (noun)
A metal made by melting and mixing two or more metals or a metal and another material mixed together: Part of the freezer was made of aluminum alloy.
ally (uh LIGH; AL igh) (noun)
Associate, partner, friend; collaborator: The United States was an ally of Great Britain in two world wars.

Don't confuse "alleys" with allies, the plural of ally: France was just one of the allies of the United States during the war.

ally (uh LIGH; AL igh) (verb)
To join with, band together: Many of the townspeople planned to ally themselves as a group in an effort to lower their taxes.

With money you can buy all the allies you want, but they are never worth the price.


It seemed to allay Fred's fears when he realized that the foundry that used a new alloy was just two alleys away from him; so he found himself an ally and they went there together.

alligator, crocodile
alligator (AL i gay" tuhr) (noun)
A large reptile that lives near water, has thick scaly skin, powerful jaws, a long tail, and a shorter and broader snout than a crocodile. Native to the southern United States (alligator mississippiensis), and the Yangtze River in China (alligator sinensis): Barry was surprised to see an alligator in his backyard during his Florida vacation.
crocodile (KRAWK uh dighl") (noun)
A large carnivorous reptile that lives near water, and has a long thick-skinned body and a broad head with strong jaws and which lives in geographical regions with hot weather; especially, the Nile crocodile: When Glenda and Floyd went to Egypt, they saw a crocodile on the shore of the Nile River.

In the Alligatoridae, the teeth of the lower jaw fit inside those of the upper jaw, whereas in the Crocodylidae, the teeth of the two jaws form a single interdititating row when the jaws are closed.

In crocodiles, the fourth tooth of the lower jaw fits into an indentation of the upper jaw and is exposed to view when the mouth is closed.

In alligators, this tooth is hidden from view when the mouth is closed, because it fits into a pit which exists in the upper jaw.

Other physical characteristics exist; however, the foregoing information is the most outstanding.

Crocodilians are well-adapted as predators, with few natural enemies. Bony plates, called osteoderms, form a kind of armor in their thick skin.

Their teeth, about 30 to 40 in each jaw, are set into sockets in the jawbones and interlock when the mouth is closed.

Crocodilians are the most vocal reptiles, producing sounds from quiet hisses to fearsome roars and bellows, usually during the mating season. On land, crocodilians move quickly in a belly crawl but can also gallop and walk mammal-like on all four legs.

—Compiled from information located in
"Crocodilia", Encyclopaedia Britannica; William Benton, Publisher;
Chicago; Illinois; 1968; pages 787-789.

Darrell's friend told Derrick that an easy way to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile is that an alligator has an "A" shaped snout and the snout of a crocodile is more rounded.

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