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.

allowed, aloud
allowed (uh LOUD) (verb)
1. To permit someone to do something; give permission to; authorize, approve: My salary has not allowed me to live extravagantly.

The teacher allowed us to leave school early.

2. Allocated, granted, provided: Have you allowed yourself at least an hour to get to the airport?
aloud (uh LOUD) (adverb)
Not in a whisper; in a normal speaking voice, audibly: If you want to say it aloud, go ahead.

The ancients were in the habit of reading aloud even when they were alone.

People are not allowed to speak aloud in the school library.

allusive, elusive, delusive, illusive,
allusive (uh LOO siv) (adjective)
Suggestive, indirect reference to something: Claude was always allusive regarding anything about his personal life and he never provided any specific information.
elusive (i LOO siv) (adjective)
1. Tending to slip away; hard to grasp or to perceive: Lynn had an elusive perfume fragrance which her friends could not identify.
2. Difficult to find or to capture: The truth is proving to be elusive.
delusive (di LOO siv) (adjective)
Tending to mislead, to deceive: Erica is being delusive when she tells members of the project that they can finish this job on time.
illusive (i LOO siv) (adjective)
Deceptive, unreal, misleading: Neil has illusive hopes of finding a better job.

While Mathew was lost in the desert, he saw an illusive oasis known as a mirage.

Ed made an allusive comment about the illusive nature of his new novel which was intended to be delusive, creating an elusive sense of reality and confusing the readers.

altar, alter
altar (AWL tur) (noun)
A stand or platform used in a place of worship: The minister placed the Bible on the altar as he read passages to the congregation.

Catherine knelt at the altar to pray.

alter (ALW tur) (verb)
1. To change, transform, make different, modify: The blond wig seemed to completely alter Jane's appearance. She said she would also alter her dress.
2. To castrate or to spay an animal; such as, a cat or a dog: The family dog was taken to the animal center so the vet could alter it.

The minister wanted to alter the church altar before the next worship service.

alternate, alternate, alternate, alternative
alternate (AWL tur nayt) (verb)
Occurring by turns; succeeding each other, take turns, change: Tyrone and his sister alternate washing the supper dishes.
alternate (AWL tur nit) (adjective)
One and then the other; every other, successive: Each of the two druggists works on alternate Sundays.

The awning had alternate red and white stripes.

alternate (AWL tur nit) (noun)
Standby, backup, understudy: Karl attended the political convention not as a delegate but as an alternate.
alternative (awl TUR nuh tiv) (noun)
A choice between two or among more than two things; something remaining to be chosen; an option: Is there an alternative to going to the party tonight?

If Vernon wants to get to Los Angeles by tonight, he has no alternative but to go by plane.

The two words have quite separate and distinct meanings: alternate implies the taking of turns, while alternative implies a choice.

Let's not blow alternately hot and cold on this; the alternative to holding the line is fuzziness of meanings.

alumna, alumnae, alumnus, alumni
alumna (singular) (uh LUHM nuh) (noun)
A female graduate: Alicia's mother is an alumna of the University of California.
alumnae (plural) (uh LUHM nee) (noun)
Female graduates: Adrian's two sisters are both alumnae of Alpha High School.
alumnus (singular) (uh LUHM nuhs) (noun)
A male graduate: Clyde was an alumnus of the University of Iowa.
alumni (plural) (uh LUHM nigh) (noun)
Male graduates: All of the graduates at the commencement were alumni because it was a males-only university.

Stacy's parents were alumni of the same college, graduating at different years.

Darren's mother was an alumna (1934) and she often got together for lunch with her fellow alumnae.

Monica's father was an alumnus (1935) whose fellow alumni would get together occasionally to go to football games.

amateur, amateur, armature, neophyte, novice, tyro
amateur (AM uh toor", AM uh tuhr", AM uh choor", AM uh tyoor") (noun)
Someone who does something for pleasure rather than for payment and anyone with limited skills in, or knowledge of, an activity; a nonprofessional: An amateur is not allowed to play in most professional golf tournaments.

An amateur shouldn't play professional poker for high stakes.

amateur (AM uh toor", AM uh tuhr", AM uh choor", AM uh tyoor") (adjective)
Unskilled, non-professional, done for enjoyment: Chad's amateur skills on the tennis court were evident when he missed the ball so often.
armature (AR muh choor") (noun)
An armor like covering: The armature of this dynamo needs to be repaired.
neophyte (NEE uh fight") (noun)
Any new participant in some activity; beginner, apprentice; a disciple, convert, proselyte, novitiate: Greg, the neophyte, learned the required church procedures very quickly.
novice (NOHV is) (noun)
Someone who is commencing, or who is learning, an activity and has acquired little skill in it; a beginner, an apprentice: Luis is a novice in the blacksmith's trade.
tyro (TIGH roh) (noun)
Someone who is just beginning to learn something and who is new to a field or activity, a trainee, a learner: Doug, the old pro, gave the tyro some tips on how to do the job more efficiently.

Steve's father was an amateur gardener who readily admitted he was a neophyte, really just a tyro, when it came to raising certain bulbs; however, he carefully studied the armature of the corm of each of the species before planting them.

Additional clarifications regarding amateur, neophyte, novice, and tyro

Amateur, the most widely used of these four terms, is applied to someone who follows or pursues any art, study, or other activity simply from the love of doing it.

In certain activities; especially, sports, an amateur is anyone who, regardless of excellence, receives no payment for his or her performance: Alice played as an amateur for five years before becoming a professional.

Neophyte also refers to a beginner (novice, tyro), but the term is usually applied to a recent church convert; especially, to a novice in a religious order and to a recently ordained priest.

A novice is a beginner, a person new to any field or activity: Some young brides are novices when it comes to housekeeping.

Tyro is closely related in meaning to novice; because it refers to someone who is inexperienced: James was a tyro during his first weeks at training camp.

An amateur may be skilled and even experienced, but neophytes, novices, and tyros never are. A neophyte, novice, or tyro may be a professional, but an amateur never is.

—Compiled from information located in
Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions by Harry Shaw;
McGraw-Hill Book Company; New York; 1975; page 71.
amelioration, melioration, pejoration
amelioration (uh meel" yuh RAY shuhn) (noun)
A making or becoming better; improvement: Efforts of amelioration are being made for the suffering of people who have lost their jobs.
melioration (meel" yuh RAY shuhn; mee" lee uh RAY shuhn) (noun)
1. The act or process of improving something or the state of being improved: The workers are hoping for a melioration of the financial situation for their company.
2. The linguistic process by which a word over a period of time grows more elevated in meaning or more positive in connotation: The word "nice" has gone through the process of melioration because it formerly meant "foolish".
pejoration (pej uh RAY shuhn; pee" juh RAY shuhn) (noun)
1. The process or condition of worsening or degenerating; deterioration: The global financial situation is going through a process of pejoration.
2. The process by which the meaning of a word becomes negative or less elevated over a period of time: The word "silly", which formerly meant "deserving sympathy, helpless, or simple", has gone through pejoration, resulting in the meanings of "showing a lack of good sense, frivolous".

Some would say that the process of the melioration of English vocabulary is balanced with the process of pejoration, because words become more elevated in meaning; while other words become less so; however, the amelioration of the situation is helped by the use of new dictionaries.

amend, emend
amend (uh MEND) (verb)
1. To change for the better; to improve; to rectify: Sean advised Dale to amend his manners.

Dale was sincerely trying to amend his bad habits.

2. To change, to revise, to modify: The members of the club voted to amend the constitution.
emend (i MEND) (verb)
To improve by critical editing; to correct, to revise: Bertha had to emend the report by inserting the right data.

The editor thought it was necessary to emend the punctuation in the author's essay.

The professor wanted to emend the essay she was reading and suggested that the author amend the research and submit the essay again.

amiable, amicable
amiable (AY mee uh buhl) (adjective)
Friendly and agreeable in disposition; good-natured and likable: Amiable neighbors help make a house a home.

Gail's brother, Luis, has an amiable personality.

amicable (AM i kuh buhl) (adjective)
Characterized by or exhibiting friendliness or goodwill; peaceable, agreeable: If wars are to end, nations must learn amicable means of settling their disputes.

Amiable is more often used to describe people and amicable to describe actions, gestures, etc.

Examples include: The next-door neighbors are amiable people.

The union and the company reached an amicable settlement in their contract dispute.

Because Juanita approached her new, amiable neighbors with an open mind and a plate of muffins, they were able to reach an amicable solution to building a new fence.

amity, enmity
amity (AM i tee) (noun)
A feeling of friendship: Friendly relations between nations or groups could give mankind an era of international amity.
enmity (EN mi tee) (noun)
A very deep unfriendly feeling: There is a long history of enmity between Howard and his fellow workers because of his comments against the labor union.

"It's a mistake to ignore the lethal enmity between Bin Laden and Hamas."

—This quote is from "The subtext of Bin Laden's message";
The Boston Globe editorial; as seen in the International Herald Tribune;
January 23, 2009; page 6.

Erica agrees that a universal amity is to be desired; however, she is afraid that there is a sense of distrust and enmity among too many governments.

amnesia, aphasia
amnesia (am NEE zhuh) (noun)
A loss of memory as a result of a shock, an injury, a psychological disturbance, or some kind of medical disorder: Because of the shock caused by a head injury, Victor's amnesia resulted in a total loss of memory regarding his past life.
aphasia (uh FAY zhuh) (noun)
One in a group of speech disorders in which there is a defect, or loss, of the power of expression and comprehension of spoken or written language or signs: Rhonda's brother suddenly had aphasia as a result of brain damage resulting from the automobile accident.

In addition to partial amnesia, the patient at the hospital suffered aphasia which impeded his recovery from the accident he suffered last year.

among, between
among (uh MUHNG) (preposition)
1. Relationships involving more than two: The teachers apparently agreed among themselves that the curricula needed revisions.
2. In the midst of; surrounded by: Jill and Jim were going for a long walk among the trees.
3. In the company of; in association with: Ana was traveling among a group of tourists.
between (bi TWEEN) (noun)
1. Applied to relationships involving only two: The apple pie was shared between the sisters Myrtle and Lena.
2. Also applicable to two or more when the items are distinctly separate: The car was driven between several houses before it came to a stop.
3. Intermediate to, as in quantity, amount, or degree: Angie found that the books cost between fifteen and twenty dollars.
4. Often used to express a reciprocal relationship: Shawn will have to choose between riding and walking.

Megan and Esther were among a large group of visitors who walked between the monuments at the ancient church.

amoral, immoral, unmoral
amoral (ay MOHR uhl) (adjective)
1. Not showing concern for what is right or wrong in human behavior: Ralph is an amoral, selfish man who is only interested in pursuing his own personal goals regardless of how others might be harmed.
2. Not caring about right and wrong: The governor has a cynical and amoral way of striving to increase his personal political objectives.
immoral (i MOR uhl) (adjective)
Contrary to established social principles; corrupt, evil, wrong: Selling illegal drugs to anyone is immoral.
unmoral (uhn MOR uhl) (adjective)
Having no perception of what is right or wrong or unable to distinguish right from wrong: An infant or someone who is mentally incapable of knowing what is right or wrong is considered to be unmoral; that is, neither "moral" nor "immoral".

The owner of the business felt that he was justified in firing the drug dealer because drug dealing is an immoral activity.

Dale was amoral in his attitude according to the head of the company; especially, since he was unmoral as revealed by his on-the-job behavior.

amused, bemused
amused (uh MYOOZ'd) (verb)
Entertained, occupied; interested: Erin and Yvonne amused themselves by playing games until their parents got back home.
bemused (bi MYOOZ'd) (adjective)
1. Mildly amused; engrossed, thoughtful: Carrie gave the child a bemused look.
2. Confused, muddled, bewildered: The wine left Chad somewhat bemused.

The people were greatly amused by the antics of the animals in the field, then they became quite bemused when for no apparent reason the creatures suddenly ran and hid in their holes.

an, and
an (AN) (adjective)
One, each: This is an excellent report.
and (AND) (conjunction)
Also, plus: Arthur ate a peach and a pear for his snack.

The dietician said Keith should eat an apple every day and at least one banana.

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