Queen’s English: Words That Can Fool You

What follows are several words that can sound alike, but can confuse and be easily be misused:

Affect and Effect.  Affect is always a verb and is meant to influence (“The rain affected the score.”).  Effect can be a noun (the “consequence of”) or a verb to cause change.  (“The Declaration of Independence effected a new type of government.”).

Complement and Compliment.  Complement is that which fills up or completes.  (“The normal complement of security guards is five.”)  Compliment is praise.

Discreet and Discrete.  Discreet statements are tactful and prudent.  (“In his discreet announcement, he carefully omitted anything inflammatory.”)  Discrete means separate, distinct, or unrelated.  (“Though they met in one place, their respective clubs’ membership was obviously discrete.”)

Elicit and Illicit.  To elicit is to call forth.  (“The Party elicited candidates to run in the spring election.”)

Illicit is illegal.  (The cargo of smuggled drugs was 100% illicit.”)

Flare and Flair.  A Flare is a bright light of short duration.  (“The flare marked the sinking ship but quickly disappeared.”).  A Flair is a knack or an aptitude.  (“She had a flair for being best-dressed at every social event.”)

Meretricious and Meritorious.  Meretricious is a synonym for tawdry or flashy.  (“The counter-culture band attracted teens in meretricious and gaudy outfits.”)  Meritorious describes a person who has performed a noble deed.  (“The fireman’s meritorious action saved the child’s life.”)

Palate, Pallet, and Palette.   A palate is the roof of the mouth.  A pallet is a mattress, usually made of straw.  A palette is an artist’s mixing board.

– Ken Butera


Posted in Newsletters, Queen’s English / Latin Lovers