Commonly confused words


From the Ethos CRS Editing Team

If you want to discover words you’ve never heard of and never thought you’d use, bureaucracies—both government and corporate—can be the place to go. New terms, jargon, acronyms and euphemisms bombard you every day. And not only that—you may be expected to use them!

Of course, the best solution to this often frustrating obstacle is to cut out the unclear language altogether. However, sometimes the specific word or phrase may be essential to the meaning of a sentence. What then? Do you fudge your way around the unknown word and bury it under more verbiage—or do you just ignore it?


You pick up the Macquarie dictionary, you look up the word, and you use it correctly.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the commonly confused terms you are likely to come across:

Appraise means to assess, or estimate the worth of something. Apprise means to inform or to advise.

Beatrice hired an agency to formally appraise her deceased father’s business. The agency will apprise Beatrice of its estimated worth in three weeks.

Continual means recurrent (i.e. the repeated instance of something with breaks between). Continuous means without end or an uninterrupted sequence. An example is:

Continual cheering from the crowd made it difficult to hear the singers, but the continuous recording system will provide us with a perfect record.

council is an administrative or advisory body. To give someone counsel is to give them guidance or advice. Also councillor and counsellor.

The local Teacher’s Council will offer counsel to students who didn’t pass year 10.

Discrete means separate or distinct. Discreet means circumspect or restrained. An example is:

He was concerned that John had not been sufficiently discreet on several discrete occasions.

Something exceptionable is objectionable. Something exceptional is unusually extraordinary.

One man’s behaviour at the performance was exceptionable—he booed in the middle of the third act. Everyone else thought the play was exceptional.

Forego means to go before; to precede. Forgo means to go without.

A novice monk, Eli, is determined to forgo meditation. Being expelled from the monastery will likely forego his enlightenment.

Militate means to influence or work, usually against, something. Mitigate means to reduce the severity of something.

A judge may see remorse as a mitigating factor and hand down a lighter sentence when it is plain that a defendant is sorry. In this case, the defendant’s lack of remorse will militate against a light sentence.

Officious is to be forward and obtrusive upon someone. Official is to be issued by an authority.

The judge was rather officious when he handed down the official verdict to the criminal.

An ordinance is ‘an authoritative rule or law’. Ordnance is ‘cannon or artillery’.

The Government has officially released an ordinance that forbids the use of ordnance in private households.

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