In the Throes of Midsummer: More Easily Confused Words

I hope everyone’s out enjoying the back half of the summer. The days are still long enough to allow for lots of poolside reading, picnic reading and road trip reading. I’m still taking in plenty of summer fun, so I’ll make this month’s visit a brief one with three more sets of easily confused words.

1. Reigns/reins. The word “reign” refers to the time period when a particular ruler is in power. “Reins” are used to control an animal upon which someone is riding. So when a person takes the reins, he is assuming control of something. The phrases “full rein” and “rein in” also rely on the word “rein” instead of “reign.” While it’s theoretically possible for a person to take reign over something, the word “reign” isn’t generally used like that. You’ll see it far more often in situations where a ruler is already in charge; the process of taking charge has its own set of words.

2. Throws/throes. The word “throes” refers to the most intense part of an intense experience. Every so often, I see writers using the word “throws” instead. I’m not sure how to clear up the confusion with this pair of words, but maybe that’s because there’s something nonsensical about the use of the word “throws” when “throes” was intended. Unless some sharp-eyed reader has a suggestion to contribute in the comments below, this might just be a dyad to memorize.

3. Elicit/illicit. If you find yourself struggling to choose between these two words, there’s an easy way out. The word “elicit” is always a verb, and the word “illicit” is always an adjective. Still confused? “Illicit,” which refers to something outside the moral constraints or law or society, starts with the same three letters as “illegal.” To elicit something is to extract it. One elicits a confession, for example. Elicit and extract both begin with the same letter.

You can’t count on the old SpellCheck to help you out here; everything here is spelled correctly. How come there’s not a ConfusionCheck?

Sounds like a problem for September.

**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style every month. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.

One thought on “In the Throes of Midsummer: More Easily Confused Words

  • More terrific tips, Lexi.

    Occasionally those are errors of lack of attention more than lack of understanding. The other day I was writing something where one person threw an object. Several sentences later, I used it instead of “through”–something like, “The ball went threw the glass.” I think I just had “threw” on the brain! When I proofed, my eyes went right over it. It took a sharp-eyed reader to catch the mistake. 🙂

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