When it comes to expressing yourself in writing, it’s important to choose exactly the right words to convey information and to communicate your thoughts and opinions. That’s the case whatever you’re working on, whether it’s school reports, emails to colleagues, or even teaching materials for students.
But it can sometimes be tricky to decide between two closely related words whose meanings are similar, though not quite the same. And sometimes choosing one instead of the other can change the meaning of the whole sentence.
Here are some word pairs that sometimes cause this type of difficulty. They’re all ones we’ve come across when proofreading school reports (and other material), although the examples we’ve included here are invented ones to illustrate the different meanings.
All the quoted definitions are from the Oxford Dictionaries website.
Simple and simplistic
Disinterested and uninterested
Historic and historical
Continuous and continual
The difference between these two is quite subtle, and in many cases using one instead of the other probably wouldn’t change the meaning drastically.
Purposely and purposefully
Alternately and alternatively
Biannual and biennial
These two words have very specific meanings. It’s important to choose the right one to describe what’s going on, whether you’re talking about batches of school reports, the organisational planning process, or a whole-school musical extravaganza!
We offered some tips on checking for mistyped words – those that your spellchecker won’t pick up – in another article. Why not add the pairs we’ve looked at here to your checking process too?