Do you want to sound dumb or do you want to sound like an intelligent person who knows what they’re talking about? If you answered dumb because it’s gotten you places then be my guest, but imagine if you knew how to sound smart. Then you’d know even more ways to act dumb and get the empathy of others. Wait is that suppose to be sympathy? Read on to find out.
Many of the words used in language are so close in definition that they can sometimes be passed as synonyms but in truth, they have more specific meanings. These differences can be used to distinguish between confusing details so that you can clearly express yourself. In some cases, no one would notice the difference, but it’s important to understand these differences so we can communicate effectively and understand precisely what people are trying to say. The more a word can tell us the more we benefit from it.
This article is not a how to be a grammar snob at the party guide. It is intended to provoke thought into the details of speech and explore the versatility of language. I chose to be broad and brief in my descriptions because I believe in the flexibility of language. Within each description, I included a method of thinking that will help your mind remember the difference. This list only scratches the surface. There are many others that are important to distinguish. Learn these differences so you can improve your ability to communicate.
Sympathy vs. Empathy
Sympathy is the act of acknowledging another person’s feelings of hardship while empathy means that you understand how the person feels because it has happened to you. Think of empathy and experience both start with an E. Sympathy is the act of saying sorry and sticking by their side.
Evoke vs. Invoke
While both words mean to bring forth or call upon they are slightly different. Evoke tends to mean feeling or thoughts that arise naturally. On the other hand, Invoke has an action that is performed intentionally. Think of evoke as being effortless and emotional both starting with an E and Invoke as being intentional and occurring in reality both using In.
Affect vs Effect
Both words are part of the change process, but affect (verb) is the change taking place and effect (noun) is the end result of the change. Think of affect as the action both starting with an A and effect as the end result both starting with an E.
Directions vs. Instructions
Both words are very similar and can be used interchangeably. However, they denote a difference in the degree of how accurate the task’s commands should be. Think of directions as being pointed in the right direction and given the opportunity to find your own path. Think of instructions as a set of more structured guidelines coming from an instructor.
Talents vs. Skills
We all have them and many people think they are the same thing but actually, they are different in how they are acquired. Talent is the inborn natural inclination to a particular task while skills are acquired through learning and practice. A natural talent is the building block that sets the stage for a skill sharpened through hard work.
Sex vs. Gender
Perhaps the most controversial pair on this list, sex and gender are now being used to describe two different personal characteristics. Sex is used to describe the biological distinction between male and female while gender is used to describe social and cultural identification. Think of sex as the anatomical definition and gender as the desired view of the general public.
Sound vs. Noise
The general definitions of these words are related to what is heard through ears, but they describe two opposites. A sound is considered to be intentional and enjoyable. A noise, however, is unpleasant, irregular, and irrelevant. Think of the sound of music compared to that noisy annoyance.
Essential vs. Necessary
Both words are used to emphasize the need for something, but they are slightly different in context and severity. Essential is used to emphasize something that without which would not exist at all. Necessary is used to describe something needed for a specifically desired result that without which would still provide a similar yet different result. Think of essential as existence and necessary as needing to be specific.
Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning
Logic involves drawing conclusions from a set of input basically math with words. Many people confuse Deductive Reasoning with Inductive Reasoning but the two are actually opposites. Deduction involves arriving at the conclusion by removing possibilities (Police eliminating suspects). Induction involves using simple information to explain larger more general situations (flames burned me so I know all fire is hot). Think of deduction as deducting possibilities and induction as adding in more general conclusions.
Imply vs. Infer
These words look and seem like twins, but they are in fact two ends of subtle communication. When you imply you say something without saying it and the other person infers what you mean. The difference in this verb is who is doing the action. Imagine the communicator thinking the information is important to imply and the listener as interpreting the inference.
Legend vs. Myth
They both aren’t entirely true, but the difference is a fact. A legend is an exaggeration of partially historical facts that have been stretched. A myth is a completely made up story using a symbol of teaching a lesson or concept. Think of the legendarily larger-than-life qualities of your favorite historical figure. Think about how Greek Mythologies were used to teach ancient values and impart wisdom.
Wealthy vs. Rich
I bet you want a lot of money, but do you want to be rich or wealthy because there is a big difference. Rich people come into money quickly and can’t keep it up for a long time because they either spend it erratically or their way of earning it dries up. Wealthy people are more intelligent with their money and continue to generate more and spend wisely. Think of Richie Rich spending his itch and Warren Buffet maintaining the health of his wealth.
Biography vs. Memoir
Both genres are often lumped together in bookstores and are both about a person’s life but they are slightly different. A biography is a chronological depiction of someone’s life from the beginning to the end and covers the development of their personality. A memoir, on the other hand, is an account of a specific aspect of someone’s life that’s interesting. Think of a biography as a depiction of biological birth and a memoir as the story of a specific memory.
Cemetery vs. Graveyard
Both places are where the dead are buried, but there is a big difference. Cemeteries are what we normally bury our dead in these days with beautifully well kept headstones, green grass, trees, and flowers. Opposed to the tranquil cemetery a graveyard is usually very old with little upkeep and sometimes holds mass or unmarked graves. Think of cemeteries as having beautiful cement headstones, tombs, and mausoleums. Think of a graveyard as merely a somber yard of graves.
Reuse vs. Recycle
These terms are often used interchangeably and they both are pursuits of the green movement, but they represent two distinct uses. When you reuse something you use it again the same way it was originally intended. When you recycle something you are stripping it down to its bare parts which will then be used for a new purpose. Think of ‘re use’ in its literal sense and recycle as being broken down at a recycling center.
Listen vs. Hear
This distinction is often understood by many people but it is so important I thought to include it. Hearing is the basic act of sounds entering the ear whether you realize it or not. Listening, on the other hand, is the active action of realizing and understanding what you hear. Think of hearing in terms of the ear and listening in terms of being able to list what you hear.
Ethics vs. Values
Do you have good values or are you ethical? There is a difference. Values are the personal beliefs that an individual believes to be true or important. Ethics are a set of guidelines set by an institution or society. You may have great values, but you don’t follow the ethical standards set forth by the society you live in. Think of values as what you value and ethics as the ethical standards set by society.
Poison vs. Venom
Perhaps the most dangerous words on this list are Poison vs. Venom. These two are very often misused. Venom involves being bitten, stung, or stabbed by no fault of your own. However, Poison’s dangerous effects occur when you touch, bite, or ingest the plant or animal. Think of the bite of a venomous snake and the act of drinking poison.
Personality vs. Character
Don’t be fooled by personality when character is what you’re really looking for. Both words describe people, but they point to different aspects. Personality is the traits that are obvious when you normally interact with someone such as funny, extroverted, or confident. Characteristics are a more internal trait that only shows in specific situations such as honesty, kindness, and morality. Think of personality as what you perceive in a person and character as the characteristics of specific circumstances.
Approve vs. Authorize
These two words both allow an action, but they are slightly different in the power that they exude. When we get approval our future actions are acceptable to the person giving the approval. When we are authorized our actions are sanctioned as an extension of the person giving the authority. Think of getting your actions approved as opposed to being authorized to act on behalf of the authority.
Nation vs. Country
These two words both represent and define a large number of people, but they can have multiple meanings. A country is a self-governing political entity. A nation, on the other hand, is a tightly-knit group of people who share a common culture. To help understand this, a country has a government and a military such as the US or France. A nation can be a country, but it can also be a cultural element that spans across countries such as the Nation of Islam or Cherokee Nation.
Zero vs. Nothing
Believe it or not, zero did not exist in early mathematics and when it was adopted it opened the door for the complex math we know today. It is a number though and cannot be confused with the idea of nothing or null. Nothing has no characteristics or properties while zero is a beginning or an end. Think of doing something and failing as zero and not trying at all as nothing or null.
American vs. British
There are many words I’ve encountered on the internet that I thought were wrong and when I looked them up I realized that they were correct according to the British. Depending on which country you’re in or appealing to you should stick to that countries spelling, but the words are often times so similar that they work either way. Here is a list of the most common ones I’ve come across: Favorite/favourite, learned/learnt, color/colour, theater/theatre, airplane/aeroplane, analyze/analyse, dreamed/dreamt, check/cheque, catalog/catalogue.
Words are the language of consciousness and intelligence so they should always be a pursuit of anyone who wants to become more intelligent. I find the differences in this list interesting because they raise questions that help improve thought by examining details. Continue describing and interpreting the world in more precise terms and you’ll gain a higher degree of knowledge.
I know that I missed some important pairs on this list and I would love to add your suggestions. If you disagree with any of the descriptions I’ve created I’d love to debate them just explain in the comments. Follow me on social media for more insightful posts and updates.