What Are Paronyms?

So, what are paronyms? Also known as confused words, paronyms are words that are very similar in pronunciation and spelling, but that are not identical, carrying a different meaning. However, the term paronym has a second definition, as it can also refer to words that are derived from the same root, i.e. cognate words (e.g. brother and Bruder).

Using these words interchangeably can give rise not only to semantic errors, but also to a meaning that is different from the one intended.

Based on the first definition, our post will present some misuse examples, clarifying the meaning of each paronym.

Affect vs. effect

“There’s changes to the accountancy rules for holiday homes that will effect some.” (The Guardian  – Travel)

While affect is a verb, meaning to impact or change, effect is usually a noun – an effect is the result of a change.  Given that an auxiliary verb (will) cannot be paired with a noun (effect), affect would be the correct option for this sentence.

Elicit vs. illicit

“While fabricators may be flagged by tricks embedded in the tests – asking follow-up questions or multiple questions designed to illicit the same response – such tests are not prep-proof.” (The New York Times)

Just like affect, elicit is a verb, meaning to produce or draw out. Inversely, illicit is an adjective, describing something that is illegal or forbidden.

Discreet vs. discrete

“It’s fine to share photos and events from your personal life, but be discrete and ‘PG’.” (Huffington Post)

These similar adjectives carry very different meanings. While discreet means on the down low and inconspicuous, discrete means separate and distinct.

Complement vs. compliment

“The fashion presentation that followed served to compliment the video.” (Vice)

To compliment someone means praising them for something. The intended meaning for this sentence would be easily conveyed by the verb complement, meaning to complete, improve or harmonise.

Stationery vs. stationary

“She used her latest loan of $6,000 to expand her stock, buying stationary and beauty products.“ (Forbes)

Stationary with an a is the older of these two terms, meaning fixed in one place and not moving. Stationery, with an e, has its origins in the term stationer, which refers to “a person or shop selling paper, pens, and other writing and office materials”, and would be the correct option for this sentence.

Other commonly confused words

Other paronyms which are usually confused and misspelled are tough, though, thou, through, thorough and throughout. 

Respectively, these mean: strong or difficult; however; an archaic you; across; exhaustive or minute and, lastly, in every part, or during the whole period of time.

Allusive, illusive and elusive also fall into this category. While the first refers to something alluding to something else, meaning being suggestive, the second describes something that is deceptive or illusory, and the last, something that is difficult to catch or remember.

These are just a few mistakes we must be aware of, and you will not find them at Letrário. Resort to our services and rest assured. Our lexical experts are extremely attentive, thus avoiding incorrect interchangeability, losses of meaning, literal translation pieces and unnatural expressions.