Words That Aren’t Synonyms

From Word Genius

A mark of a good writer is precise language, but it’s impossible to keep up with the many definitions and nuance of all the words in the dictionary. As long as you communicate effectively, does it really matter if you call it “jam” or “jelly,” or vice versa? To a preserves connoisseur, yes! If you want to get technical, check out these 12 sets of words most commonly — and most incorrectly — thought to mean the same thing.

Graveyard vs. Cemetery

“Graveyard” refers to smaller burial sites attached to a church, and a “cemetery” is just a large burial ground. Also, despite the word “cemetery” being older — originating in Roman times — it has remained the more popular term between the two. 

Jelly vs. Jam

While both are sourced from fruit, “jelly” is smoother, translucent, and made from the juice of a fruit. “Jam” is less stiff in comparison and made of crushed fruit or pulp. Bonus: “preserves” are another spread that’s basically chunky fruit in a gel-like consistency — think marmalade. 

College vs. University

This one can be a bit confusing, as universities are generally made up of colleges and colleges are further categorized by subject, or community colleges and vocational schools. However, the main difference between the two is that universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs while colleges often only offer associate and undergraduate degrees. 

CV vs. Résumé

Everyone from students to recruiters are guilty of mixing up these two. “Résumé” refers to a one-page summary of your skills and experience. A “CV” — common when applying for academic or scientific positions — is often longer as it requires in-depth listings of one’s academic background as well as specific accomplishments. “CV” stands for curriculum vitae, meaning “course of life” in Latin, so it makes sense that this one would be a more comprehensive document. 

Poisonous vs. Venomous

For something to be poisonous, it has to be ingested, inhaled, or touched before the damage takes effect. Something that is venomous has to be injected through a bite or sting.

Barter vs. Haggle

Bartering typically involves a trade of equal value without money being exchanged. This can be done with commodities or skills. Haggling involves negotiating to a new cash price.

Autobiography vs. Memoir

An autobiography is a self-written story of a subject’s life, including detailed chronological events. Autobiographies are rooted heavily in facts. Memoirs, however, are less formal. They take on an emotional truth and understanding of one’s life, and often pick and choose which aspects the writer will focus on, rather than presenting a clear history. 

Emoji vs. Emoticon

Emojis are the updated versions of emoticons. They’re the image icons most smartphone keyboards equipped with. An emoticon throws it back to early online chats when keyboard characters were heavily used to build facial expressions — 🙂  🙁  😛 :D. 

Disinterested vs. Uninterested

When you’re disinterested in something, it means you don’t have an interest — you’re impartial or uninvolved. “Uninterested,” however, means you are bored by something. For two words with only a difference in prefixes, it makes sense that their definitions hold just as subtle a change.

Sick vs. Ill

“Sick” is the more informal term of the two. Besides that, the word “sick” is also used when describing short-term health issues such as the common cold. “Ill” is used to describe short- and long-term issues.

Travesty vs. Disaster

“Oh, it was an absolute travesty!” is a line we’ve heard uttered in a dramatic plot line or two. “Disaster” — an event that causes great damage — would be the more apt term as “travesty” refers to an extreme distortion or perversion.

Dilemma vs. Quandary

The difference here lies more on a technicality. While both refer to problems, a “quandary” is a general state of uncertainty in a difficult situation while a “dilemma” is specific to being torn between two undesirable choices. Bonus: if it’s between three options — a “trilemma”!


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