Desert or Dessert? More commonly confused word pairs

Desert or dessert? More commonly confused word pairs

How do you know when to use desert or dessert? It's or its? Fewer or less? This blog continues from Commonly Confused Word Pairs. We give clear examples of when to use which word. Hope it helps you with your writing!

Desert and Dessert

camel being led by man in desert for desert or dessert more commonly confused word pairs

A desert is dry land. It is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable: desert. The dashing Arabian prince stampeded across the desert on his white stallion.

A dessert is a sweet treat, usually eaten after dinner (although Johnny doesn’t think it’s fair). It is spelt with double 's' and pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable: dessert. Johnny: “Mum, I want dessert!” Mum: “Johnny, no sweets until you’ve eaten your lovely vegetables.”

Disinterested and Uninterested

Uninterested means lacking in interest towards something or someone. Josh was uninterested in physics, and in every class his attention wandered to surfing, his girlfriend and everything but physics. In other words, Josh couldn’t care less about physics.

Disinterested means a neutral or impartial attitude towards something or someone. John is a judge. In criminal trials, he must act as a disinterested participant. This means that although John takes an active part in trials, he must remain impartial.

Endings –er and –est

These endings (or suffixes) are added to adjectives to compare items. An adjective (adj) is a word that qualifies (adds more meaning to) a noun (n).

Example: Libby has a big (adj) motorbike (n). To compare two or more items –er is added to the adjective.  Libby and Jo both have motorbikes but Jo’s is bigger than Libby’s. To compare three or more items –est is added to the adjective. Libby, Jo and Stephanie all have motorbikes but Stephanie’s is the biggest.

Not all adjectives can be made comparative by adding these suffixes. The general rule that applies – ‘general’ because English has so many exceptions! – is that adjectives of up to two syllables are made comparative by using –er or –est and adjectives of three or more syllables use ‘more’ and ‘most’ before the adjective.

Example: Lizzy thought her graduation dress was fancier than Martina’s. ‘Fancy’ is a two-syllable adjective so the suffix –er can be added to compare the two items. Constanza believed her dress was the fanciest of them all.

But: Lizzy thought her graduation dress was more beautiful than Martina’s – because the adjective ‘beautiful’ has three syllables. And: Constanza believed her dress was the most beautiful of them all.

Eminent and Imminent and Immanent

You’re more likely to see the words eminent and imminent in everyday language than you are to see immanent.

Eminent means prominent or famous. Example: Socrates was an eminent philosopher.

Imminent means that something is about to happen. Example: Julia looked up at the cloud-laden sky and said to Harry, “A storm is imminent, let’s run for cover.”

Immanent is a rarely used adjective. Its most common meanings are ‘existing, operating, or remaining within; inherent’. Example: All were stirred by the remoteness of the place, and by the immanent beauty of the river and the woods above it. – Philip Marsden, The Main Cages (2002)

Farther and Further

Farther implies a measurable or physical distance.

Example: I have to drive farther to the shops than Jessica does.

Further is used for abstract lengths that are not always measurable. He borrowed $10,000 on his credit card, driving him further into debt.

Trick to distinguish between the two: You could substitute the word ‘additional’ or ‘to a greater extent’ for ‘further’.

Fewer and Less

Fewer is better used with countable nouns and less with uncountable nouns and with intangible concepts. See previous blog on ‘Nouns and Dangling Modifiers’, where countable and uncountable nouns are explained in detail.

Examples: 1. My company has fewer employees than Jasper’s company, but his company is less efficient than mine. 2. I drink less water than you do. 3. Maggie spent less time on the assignment than Maddie did.

It's and Its

It's is the contraction (short form) of ‘it is’. The apostrophe takes the place of the letter that is dropped, the ‘i’ in ‘is’. Example: It's a beautiful day = it is a beautiful day.

The most common usage of its is as a possessive adjective. Example: I’m afraid of Ben’s tiger. Don’t worry, its snarl is worse than its bite.

Trick: If the sentence doesn’t make sense by using the long form of the contraction ‘it is’, then your word is its without the apostrophe.

Loose and Lose

Loose is mainly used as an adjective (it can also be an adverb). Example: The teacher’s trousers were so loose that they were in danger of falling off altogether.

Lose is a verb. Example: The coach instructed his team, “Don't lose the game or there’ll be no beer and pizza on Friday night.”

Me, Myself, and I

This brings us to a short discussion of subjects and objects in sentences. Me is always the object – an action is done to ‘me’; I is always the subject – ‘I’ is the person who carries out the action. Myself is a reflexive pronoun and is used when ‘I’ has been used earlier in the sentence.

Example: I brought Joanie home to have dinner with my family and me. Joanie passed me the salt. In the morning, I made myself breakfast.

Trick: To decide correct usage, omit the other person from the sentence. For example, in the first sentence above, if you remove ‘with my family’ it’s easy to see that ‘me’ is correct: I brought Joanie home to have dinner with me (not ‘I’). Joanie and I went home to my place for dinner. Omitting Joanie from the sentence, I went home to my place for dinner (not ‘me’).

Nauseous and Nauseated

old-fashioned couple looking nauseated for dessert or dessert more commonly confused word pairs

These two words are really commonly mixed up. Try not to embarrass yourself by saying the opposite of what you mean. If you say you feel nauseous, it means that you generate in others the feeling of nausea towards you. It’s a common mistake and it’s quite funny really! I am nauseated means that you feel sick or disgusted.

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