Vocabulary Stretchers: Similar Words with Subtle Differences

This section of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com focuses on similar words with subtle differences -- words with similar meanings, but not always easily substituted for one another. Consult dictionary for distinction between each pair.

We know that synonyms are words with similar meanings -- but one synonym cannot always simply be substituted for another. Nuanced shades of meaning distinguish some synonyms from each other, and rules of word usage often dictate whether they can be applied in the same way.

For this list, consult the dictionary for the distinction between the members of each of the pairs. Then compose a sentence for each word in the pairas to illustrate the correct use of the words.

ability, capacity
abstain, refrain
abstinence, temperance
accept, except
accept, receive
ache, pain
adhere, cohere
adherence, adhesion
admission, admittance
admit, confess
adverse, averse
advice, counsel
aggravate, irritate
allusion, illusion
allusion, reference
amateur, novice
ambiguous, equivocal
anticipate, expect
appearance, aspect
apprehend, comprehend
ardor, fervor
artist, artisan
ascent, ascension
ascent, assent
ascribe, impute
assembly, assemblage
assent, consent
avenge, revenge
avocation, vocation
aware, conscious

balance, remainder
bashful, modest
behavior, conduct
belief, faith
benignant, benign
beside, besides
blanch, whiten
blessing, benediction
blockade, siege
bravery, bravado
bring, fetch
broad, wide
bury, inter

can, may
character, reputation
childish, childlike
cite, quote
claim, assert
clothing, costume
comfort, ease
commercial, mercantile
common, mutual
complement, compliment
complement, supplement
complete, finish
composure, equanimity
comprehensible, comprehensive
compulsion, obligation
congratulate, felicitate
consecutive, successive
contemptible, contemptuous
continuation, continuance
corporal, corporeal
correct, rectify
cozy, snug
crawl, creep
credible, creditable
credit, accredit
cure, heal
custom, habit

decided, decisive
definite, definitive
demesne, domain
deprecate, depreciate
descent, dissent
discovery, invention
discriminate, distinguish
disinterested, uninterested
disposal, disposition
dissatisfied, discontented
distinct, distinctive
dramatic, theatrical
dry, arid
dumb, mute
durable, lasting

earth, world
egoism, egotism
elemental, elementary
emigrate, immigrate
envy, jealousy
equal, equivalent
esteem, respect
evidence, proof
exchange, interchange
exempt, immune
expedite, facilitate
efficiency, efficacy
eldest, oldest
elude, evade
enough, sufficient
equable, equitable
essential, necessary
euphemism, euphuism
exact, precise
excuse, pardon
expect, suppose

facsimile, copy
fancy, imagination
feeling, sentiment
fervent, fervid
fluid, liquid
food, feed
force, strength
familiar, intimate
farther, further
feminine, effeminate
fewer, less
foreign, alien
forgive, pardon

gayety, cheerfulness
gentle, tame
glance, glimpse
grieve, mourn
genius, talent
genuine, authentic
grateful, thankful

hanged, hung
happiness, pleasure
hear, listen
honorable, honorary
human, humane
healthy, healthful
heathen, pagan
horrible, horrid

illegible, unreadable
imaginary, imaginative
imperious, imperial
in, into
ingenious, ingenuous
insinuation, innuendo
involve, implicate
irony, sarcasm
irretrievable, irreparable
image, effigy
impending, approaching
imply, infer
inability, disability
intelligent, intellectual
instinct, intuition
irony, sarcasm

judicious, judicial
just, equitable
justify, warrant


lack, want
languor, lassitude
later, latter
lawful, legal
lax, slack
leave, let
lend, loan
liable, likely
libel, slander
lie, lay
like, love
linger, loiter
look, see
loose, lose
luxurious, luxuriant

majority, plurality
marine, maritime
martial, military
moderate, temperate
mood, humor
moral, ethical
moral, religious
mutual, reciprocal
myth, legend

natal, native
nautical, naval
near, close
necessaries, necessities
needy, needful
noted, notorious
novice, tyro

observance, observation
observe, perceive
obsolete, archaic
omnipresent, ubiquitous
on, upon
oppose, resist
opposite, contrary
oppress, depress

palliate, extenuate
passionate, impassioned
pathos, pity
patron, customer
peculiar, unusual
perspicuity, perspicacity
permeate, pervade
permit, allow
perseverance, persistence
pertain, appertain
pictorial, picturesque
pitiable, pitiful
pity, sympathy
pleasant, pleasing
politician, statesman
practicable, practical
precipitous, precipitate
precision, preciseness
prejudice, bias
prelude, overture
pride, vanity
principal, principle
process, procedure
procure, secure
professor, teacher
progress, progression
propitious, auspicious
proposal, proposition

quiet, quiescent

raise, rear
raise, rise
ransom, redeem
rare, scarce
reason, understanding
reasonable, rational
recollect, remember
regal, royal
reliable, trustworthy
requirement, requisite
restive, restless
reverse, inverse
ride, drive
rhyme, rhythm

sacred, holy
salutation, salute
scanty, sparse
scholar, student
science, art
scrupulous, conscientious
serf, slave
shift, expedient
sick, ill
silent, taciturn
sit, set
skilled, skilful
slender, slim
smart, clever
sociable, social
solicitude, anxiety
stay, stop
stimulus, stimulation
strut, swagger
suppress, repress

termination, terminus
theory, hypothesis
tolerate, permit
torment, torture
tradition, legend
truth, veracity

unbelief, disbelief
unique, unusual

varied, various
variety, diversity
venal, venial
vengeance, revenge
verse, stanza
vindictive, revengeful
visit, visitation
visitant, visitor

wander, stray
warn, caution
will, volition
wit, humor
witness, see
womanish, womanlike
worth, value

Editor's note: This section of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com is excerpted and adapted from Project Gutenberg's The Century Vocabulary Builder, by Creever and Bachelor.

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