Problematic Word Pairs: Part III

by Tina Blue
March 24, 2001

This is the last in a series of three articles about word pairs that create confusion for a lot of speakers and writers. To read the first article in this series, click here.  To read the second, click here.  To read the third, click here.


He who waits with baited breath needs to stop eating worms! (I won't make the tempting allusion to the Diet of Worms.) The word you want in that sentence is bated, which has the same root as abate.

~He watched with bated breath as the young thug foolishly baited the pit bull.

~I baited the hook, and then waited with bated breath to see if I would get a bite. (Is that a tongue-twister or what?)


The word discrete means separate and distinct, whereas the word discreet means tactful, prudent, circumspect.

~You can tell her your secrets, but you're a fool if you expect her to be discreet.

~These are discrete projects, and their funding records should be kept separate.


These words mean the same thing, but dissociate is the older word, whereas disassociate is a newcomer that has a less distinguished pedigree. Basically, disassociate came into common usage because people misunderstood dissociate, thinking it needed the extra syllable, which it does not. Disassociate is not actually "wrong," but dissociate is preferred, simply because it is older and because that added syllable adds nothing of value.


Incredible means unbelievable. Incredulous means disbelieving. Anything unbelievable could be called incredible, but only a disbelieving person can be described as incredulous.

~Told that he owed the government over a million dollars in back taxes, the gas station attendant was naturally incredulous.

~Such a sum was simply incredible.


Eminent means outstanding, distinguished, or noteworthy. Imminent means impending, about to happen.

~The eminent professor's retirement was imminent.

6. i.e. vs. e.g.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, which means that is. The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means for example.

~The surface manifestations--i.e., symptoms--of different neurological wiring can be seen as learning disabilities, or simply as differences in the way an individual perceives and processes information.

~Unfortunately, certain types of adults--e.g., those who dislike children, those who are unstable or incompetent, and those who seek only to impose their will on people who are weaker than themselves--may actually be drawn to the profession of teaching.


This one is easy. Here is your mnemonic device: g stands for ground--stalagmites are the ones that come up out of the ground; c stands for ceiling--stalactites are the ones that come down from the ceiling.


Flaunt means to display proudly, to show something off. Flout means to disobey contemptuously.

~He flaunted his willingness to flout the rules.

9. SITE vs. CITE

Site means place or location. Cite means to mention as an example, to quote something in support of a point.

~Be sure to get the reference data right when you cite your sources for this paper.

~We chose this site for the new factory because we can draw on the nearby town for employees.

back to article index
back to homepage
Sign InView Entries
Tell a friend about this page
email me
Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More
Find Other Great Resources
Improve Your English Grammar with WhiteSmoke