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.

aught, aught, naught, naughty, ought
aught (AWT) (pronoun)
Anything; any part or item; by any chance; in any respect (considered to be literary and old-fashioned): For aught I know, he could have left an hour ago.
aught (AWT) (noun)
The figure "0"; a cipher of zero: Manfred had aught, or zero, money available to pay for the bread.
naught (NAWT) (noun)
1. Nothing, nonexistent, insignificant; zero, a cipher; worthless, useless: All of the committee's work was for naught.
2. Zero (usually a naught): All of the experts efforts to complete the project on time was for naught.
"Naught: Something that is nothing."
—Evan Esar
naughty (NAW tee) (adjective)
1. Behaving disobediently or mischievously: His mother called him a naughty boy because he tracked mud into the house without even trying either to take his shoes off or at least trying to clean them before going in.
2. Used especially to describe a child who does not behave properly or does not obey a parent, teacher, etc.: The mother received a call from the principal of her daughter's school saying that the girl was naughty because she wouldn't quit talking while the teacher was trying to explain how to do arithmetic problems.
3. As a play on the word: a reference to anything with a zero, or zeros: Years that include zeros can be described as being naughty years; not because they behaved badly or were disobedient, but because they include "naughts or numbers with zeros".
ought (AWT) (verb)
1. Used to indicate what is expected: Tom mentioned, "They ought to be here by now and you ought to be able to read this book until they arrive."
2. Used to say or to suggest what should be done: Jane told her daughter, "You ought to get some rest now and then after that you ought to do your homework."

Someone has suggested that since zero means naught, then anyone who is born during a year that has zeros in it ought to be described as a naughty person (not with the meaning of "bad") because he/she was born in a year with a naught or naughts in its numerical composition; such as, 2001 or 2010; in other words, naughty years.

For aught I know, the more zeros in a year the naughtier the people are who were born in those years and the naughtiest, we must agree, ought to be those who came into existence in the year 2000 which has the most naughts.

aural, oral
aural (OR uhl) (adjective)
Related to the ear or the sense of hearing: Hearing aids overcome some aural deficiencies.
oral (OR uhl) (adjective)
1. Something uttered by the mouth or in words; spoken, vocal, using speech: Each student had to stand up and give an oral report in front of the class.

Ted's dog obeys both oral commands and hand gestures.

2. Treating the mouth, of the mouth; swallowed, taken into the body through the mouth: An oral surgeon removed the impacted wisdom tooth from David's mouth.

Kendra's friend was fitted with an aural device which was designed to help her understand oral statements; such as, when her dentist referred her to an oral surgeon for a consultation.

aureole, oriole
aureole (OR ree ohl") (noun)
1. A circle of light or radiance surrounding the head or body of a representation of a deity or holy person; a halo: The picture of the saint in the stained glass has a beautiful aureole surrounding the head.
2. The outermost region of the sun's atmosphere; visible as a white halo during a solar eclipse: By using the special telescope, the students were able to see the aureole of the sun during the eclipse.
oriole (OR ree ohl") (noun)
1. Old world tropical songbirds of which the male species are brightly colored, orange and black: During her travels up the jungle river, Rachael saw a beautiful oriole flitting through the trees.
2. A North American songbird of which the males tend to be brightly colored, black, orange or yellow: The American baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, was named after the colorful bird, the oriole.

Stan noticed when the blue oriole flew across the path of the setting sun, it appeared as if it were surrounded by an aureole of golden light.

auricle, oracle
auricle (OR i kuhl) (noun)
1. An ear or ear-shaped appendage or part; pinna: Many animals, including humans, have a dual auricle for hearing.
2. An ear-shaped muscular part that sticks out from the surface of each upper chamber atrium of the heart: Cardiologists are quite aware of each auricle of the heart.
oracle (OR i kuhl) (noun)
1. A person; such as, a priestess, through whom a god was believed to speak: Some people from the past would go to a shrine so they could consult an oracle.
2. Anyone who has a great deal of knowledge about something and whose opinions and advice are highly valued: I knew him long before he became the oracle of linguistics.

The auricle should not to be confused with oracle because neither the ear shape nor the upper chamber of the heart possess oracular powers.

autograph, signature
autograph (AW tuh graf") (noun)
A person's own signature or handwriting: Several people were asking the actor for his autograph.
signature (SIG nuh chuhr) (noun)
A name written in one's own handwriting: Before Freda could deposit her check, she had to write her signature on the back.

The cashier required the singer to put his signature on the check before it could be cashed; however, she next asked Erwin for his autograph on the picture which she had obtained the night before at his concert.

automation, automaton
automation (aw" tuh MAY shuhn) (noun)
1. The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process with electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum: The door uses a system of automation so you don't have to push it open.
2. The self-moving transfer of one unit of a complex industrial assembly to a succession of machines, each of which completes another stage in a manufacturing process: Modern automobile companies are using more automation than were used decades ago.
automaton (aw TOM uh tuhn) (noun)
1. Anything capable of spontaneous movement or action: Silvia had an incredible automaton, or robot, that was vacuuming the rugs in the living room.
2. A person who acts in a mechanical or machinelike way: Hans was behaving like an unfeeling automaton.

Lorena's uncle was so surprised to see what the new automation was able to do, that he was moving like an automaton; that is, moving as if he were in a daze of amazement.

avenge, revenge, revenge, vengeance
avenge (uh VENJ) (verb)
The act of doing something to hurt another person in the sense of achieving justice because that party caused harm to someone; to repay: Sam wants to avenge and to punish the person who caused his mother's injuries.

Bill planned to avenge his brother's death by burning the murderer's house down.

revenge (ri VENJ) (verb)
To seek reprisal by the person who is wronged or offended; to pay back: Tyson still plans to revenge the insult done to him by getting even.
revenge (ri VENJ) (noun)
An action taken in return for an injury or harmful offense: Jamal humiliated her, but Kelly says she will get revenge for what he said.
vengeance (VEN juhns) (noun)
An act of punishment in retaliation for an injury or offense: Elliott was determined to get vengeance for the murder of his sister.

The tree that was chopped down in Judge Desmond's front yard looked like an act of vengeance, as if someone were trying to avenge himself because of the decisions that, as the chief magistrate, he made in court in which he chided the accused for attempting to revenge himself against his neighbor.

aver, avert, divert, evert
aver (uh VUR) (verb)
To affirm positively; to declare, to proclaim: Yes, the witness did aver that he had seen the suspect at the scene of the crime.
avert (uh VURT) (verb)
1. To turn aside, to turn away: Lucia decided to avert her head so Jack couldn't see her face.
2. To prevent, to turn away: The quick arrival of firefighters would avert a major forest fire.
divert (di VURT) (verb)
1. To turn aside from a course or direction: Traffic had to divert around the scene of the accident.
2. To distract; to turn from serious thoughts: Divert Gwen's attention by pointing up to the sky.
3. To entertain by distracting attention of someone from worrisome thoughts or concerns; to amuse or to entertain: The teacher's funny stories helped to divert the children in the class from being so noisy.
evert (i VURT) (verb)
To turn outward or inside out, as any saclike object: The doctor had to evert Kate's eyelid so he could remove the irritating grain of sand.

Essie will aver to you that the clerk at the bake shop attempted to divert her attention by getting her to avert her eyes when he had to evert the bag in which she was placing the doughnuts that Essie was buying.

avocation, vocation
avocation (av" oh KAY shuhn) (noun)
An activity taken up in addition to one's regular work or profession, usually for enjoyment; a hobby: Lana's favorite avocation is reading.
vocation (voh KAY shuhn) (noun)
A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified: Darwin is a carpenter by vocation, but his hobby is painting.

Anytime someone is able to combine his or her avocation and vocation; such as, being a professor of literature and writing a novel in the spare time, is a very lucky person indeed.

avoid, devoid
avoid (uh VOID) (verb)
1. To keep something from happening: Norbert tried very hard to avoid falling down on the icy sidewalk.
2. To stay clear of or away from someone or something: Darius took a detour onto another street to avoid the heavy traffic.
3. To keep from doing something or participating in something: Anton promised that he won't be late; that is, if he can avoid it.
devoid (di VOID) (adjective)
Completely lacking; destitute or empty: The landscape in this area seems to be devoid of any life.

When Freda took the detour to avoid the downtown traffic congestion, she had no idea that she would see a city so devoid of green space.

award, award, reward
award (uh WARD) (noun)
Something that is bestowed or granted, as for merit: The school gave an award of a scholarship to the student with the highest grades.
award (uh WARD) (verb)
To make a decision or to make a choice; such as, one made by a judge or an arbitrator: The judge will award $500 to the plaintiff.
reward (ri WARD) (noun)
1. Something given or received in recompense for worthy behavior; a token of appreciation: A large reward was offered for the return of the necklace.
2. Retribution for evil acts; receiving what someone deserves: Eventually, the evildoer will get his just reward.
3. Money offered or given for the capture of a criminal: Desmond received a monetary reward for providing information that led to the apprehension of the bank robber.

During the awards ceremony, the president stated, "It gives me great pleasure to reward Elvin's valiant behavior with this award; actually it is a double award including this medal and a scholarship."

away, aweigh
away (uh WAY) (adverb)
1. From a particular thing or place: Rodney ran away from the barking dog.

Dixie and Hal sent the children away to boarding school.

2. At or to a distance in space or time: The Quinton family lived a block away from the park.
3. At or by a considerable interval: The scientist lived away back in the 17th century.
aweigh (uh WAY) (adjective)
A reference to an anchor; just clear of the bottom of a body of water: The ship raised its anchor aweigh.

The position of an anchor as it is raised clear of the bottom is referred to as being aweigh.

The sailors sang a shanty which began with the expression, "Anchors aweigh, lads, anchors aweigh" as the ship drew away from the dock. "Hurray!  The anchor is aweigh and we are away to the Far East."

awful, offal
awful (AW fuhl) (adjective)
1. Dreadful, bad, terrible: What awful weather!

Kendrick was guilty of the awful crime of murder.

2. Awe-inspiring, awesome, wondrous: The astronauts know the awful expanse of the solar system.
offal (AWF’l) (noun)
The waste parts of butchered animals, carrion, carcass; such as, entrails: The hunters took the meat and left the offal for the buzzards.

The word offal is actually the waste parts that “fall off” a butchered animal. The word comes from "off" + "fall".

English borrowed the word from Middle Dutch afval, a compound formed from af, "off" and vallen, "fall" which referred to both the "extremities of animals cut off by the butcher; such as, feet, tail, etc." and "shavings, peelings", or "general refuse". By the 15th century, offal had the meaning of "animals' entrails".

—Compiled from information presented in
Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto; Arcade Publishing;
New York; 1990; pages 371-372.

"Garbage is an offal waste".

—Evan Esar

"What is that awful smell?" Lucia asked. The response was, "It's offal that smells so awful".

awhile, a while
awhile (uh HWIGHL, uh WIGHL) (adverb)
For a short time; an adverb which is never preceded by a preposition such as "for": Let us wait awhile; not for awhile.

Grandmother is going to sit and rest awhile.

This cold weather has been around awhile.

a while (uh HWIGHL, uh WIGHL) (noun)
A period of time: Stay for a while or stay a while.

Jenny is going to be away for a while.

Mr. and Mrs. Roberts had to wait quite a while.

Jeff and Susan had to wait for a while before their meals were served.

Elvin's mother asked him to stay awhile, just a little while longer.

axes, axes, axis
axes (AHK sis) (noun)
1. Tools that have heavy metal blades and long handles that are used for chopping wood, etc.: The men used the axes to clear the trees blocking the highway after the storm.
2. Cutting or removing something: The program director thought the only solution was a series of axes of television programs from the new seasonal schedule.
axes (AHK sis) (verb)
Cutting, reducing, economizing: If Elwood axes the purchase of a new car, he will be saving a lot of money.
axis (AHK sis) (noun)
1. The imaginary straight line that something; such as, the earth, turns around: The earth rotates on its axis.
2. A straight line that divides a shape evenly into two parts: An axis is a central line around which the parts of an object are symmetrically or evenly arranged.
3. An affiliation of two or more nations to promote and ensure mutual interest, cooperation, and solidarity in their relations with foreign powers: The Axis, or alliance, of Germany and Italy in 1936, later including Japan and other nations, opposed the Allies in World War II.

There was an interesting photograph collage of many ancient axes mounted on the wall behind the six representatives of the nations comprising the peace axis during their negotiations.

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