Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

damage (noun) injury or harm that reduces value or usefulness
damages (Law) money paid as a result of lawsuit

prophecy (noun) foretelling or prediction of what is to come
prophesy (verb) to foretell or predict

prostate the gland
prostrate lying face down

track (noun) a course or route followed
tract (noun) an expanse or area of land, water, etc.; region; stretch

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words I’ve posted to date

I was thumbing through Bill Walsh’s Lapsing Into a Comma, a style guide for American English usage in the computer age, and I found this interesting bit of advice involving two words I sometimes mix up: desert and dessert.

“DESERTS: SORRY, NO CAKE When you say someone got his just deserts, desert is spelled like the arid region, not the sweet treat. (Think of it this way: It’s what a person deserves, not desserves.)”

You can do a lot worse with any free time you may have than picking up Bill Walsh’s book, subtitled “A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print–and How to Avoid Them.”

Bill Walsh is the chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post. Bill answers questions about grammar and clear writing, effective communication at www.theslot.com.

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