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Words easily confused #5

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Another entry in an irregular series.

past and passed. In the context in which they're often confused, past means "beyond" ("He looked past her"); passed is the past tense of the verb pass. "He looked passed her" is incorrect. (I sympathize with people who get this wrong; in recent years I've found myself accidentally typing homonyms (and not noticing I've done so) more and more often. I never used to do that. My brain is making cross-connections where it shouldn't. I know the difference between their, they're, and there, but my fingers sometimes type the wrong word. Embarrassing, especially when it happens while I'm typing a query or suggestion as part of editing a story.)

taut and taught. In several stories recently, I've seen phrases like "She held the rope taught." Taut means "stretched tight"; taught is always a verb, the past tense of teach.

pored and poured. To pore over a book is to read it carefully. Whenever I read "She poured over the book" I think of maple syrup being poured over pancakes.

nock and knock. To nock an arrow is to fit it to a bowstring. (Derives from the same root as notch.) You don't knock an arrow under normal circumstances.

4 Comments

As any language, English is constantly evolving. Many use the word irregardless, when it's considered improper. So much so, it was added to the dictionary. So with that being said, let's not call something a mistake if the "mistake" becomes the norm. If that is the case, it is no long a mistake but the rule. If English would've never evolved, we would all be speaking improperly to include the English themselves. The point of speech is communicate. If you believe someone poured syrup on the book when you read it, then what does that say about the reader?


Yeah. I'm part prescriptivist, part descriptivist; in fact, in most of my online writing about language for the past ten years, I've been defending the descriptivist point of view. Unfortunately, people who come to this entry without any context don't have any way to know that.

So: You may be interested in the rest of my Words Easily Confused series, and/or in my long-running but now-defunct Words & Stuff column, and/or in my current words-and-stuff blog, Neology.


That which is the norm is not neccesarily the rule. Most people speed on the interstate, but that doesn't mean that the speed limit should be changed just because the norm is to disobey it.


Hi Jed.Thanks for the article,I was just checking taught as I saw it used and was sure it was wrong.It should have been taut.It is important to preserve words and their true meaning,otherwise why send our children to school at all!


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