Watch out for commonly misused and confused word pairs

Words are not always what they seem. Use a dictionary when you write so that people don't need to have one on hand when they read what you've written. Be especially careful about words that look similar but mean different things. The English language contains a great number of words that are commonly misused or mistaken for each other. Some commonly encountered "devil pairs" are given below. This list is only a beginning, and no substitute for a good dictionary.

accuracy/precision - Accuracy is the degree of correctness of a measurement or statement. Precision is the degree of refinement with which a measurement is made or stated, and implies qualities of definiteness and specificity. acute/chronic - Reserve these terms for descriptions of symptoms, conditions, or diseases. affect/effect - Affect is a verb that means to act upon. The noun effect means outcome. (As a verb, effect means to bring about, as in "it will effect a change," an awkward phrase worth replacing.) aggravate/irritate - When an existing condition is made worse, it is aggravated. When tissue is caused to be inflamed or sore, it is irritated.

as/like - Rather than "like we just mentioned," say "as we just mentioned." Like can mean many things, but as is the conjunction for all but the most colloquial use. case/patient - A case is a particular instance. It can be evaluated, followed, and reported. A patient is a person who is under medical care. (Avoid calling an animal a patient.) A sick person not receiving treatment is not a patient, so one cannot speak of untreated or normal patients.

compliment/complement - Compliment means praise, but complement means to mutually complete each other. continual/continuous - Continual means happening over and over. Continuous means occurring without interruption. dose/dosage - A dose is the quantity to be administered at one time, or the total quantity administered. Dosage, the regulated administration of doses, is usually expressed in terms of a quantity per unit of time. (Give a dosage of 0.25 mg every 4 hours until the dose has been ingested.)

examine/evaluate - Patients, animals, and microscope slides are examined; conditions and diseases are evaluated. follow/observe - A case is followed; a patient is observed. To follow up on either approaches jargon, as does follow-up study. However, in medical writing the use of both terms is increasing. gender/sex - Gender is cultural, and is the term to use when referring to men and women as social groups. Sex is biological; use it when the biological distinction is predominant.

imply/infer - To imply is to suggest, indicate, or express indirectly To infer is to conclude. infect/infest - Endoparasites such as intestinal worms infect to produce an infection; ectoparasites such as fleas infest and produce an infestation.

infectious/contagious - Infectious means harboring an agent that can cause infection, or having been caused by an infecting agent. Contagious is the adjective that means the agent in an infectious disease has a high probability of being transmitted. Under some conditions, an infectious disease is not contagious. necessitate/require - Necessitate means to make necessary Require means to have a need for. A patient requires treatment. The treatment may necessitate certain procedures. negative/normal - Cultures, tests for microorganisms, tests for specific reactions, and reactions to tests may be negative or positive. Observations, results, or findings from examinations and tests are normal or abnormal.

over/more than - Over can be ambiguous. (The cases were followed up over two years.) Instead, say more than. (The cases were followed for more than two years.) prevalence/incidence - Prevalence is the quality or state of being widespread or common. Incidence is the rate of occurrence. principal/principle - A principal is a leader; used as an adjective, it means highest rank. A principle is a fundamental truth or law. Dr. Jones was the principal investigator on a grant to study biological principles. regime/regimen - A regime is a system of management of government.

When a system of therapy is meant, regimen is the correct term. symptoms/signs - A conservative rule states that symptoms apply to people, signs apply to animals. toxicity/toxic - Toxicity is the quality, state, or degree of being poisonous. A patient does not have toxicity. Toxic means poisonous; a patient is not toxic.

use/utilize/employ -Generally, use is the intended term; utilize suggests the discovery of a new, profitable, or practical use for something. The word employ is best reserved for putting a person to work. vaccinate/immunize - Although these words are sometimes used as synonyms, they carry different implications. To vaccinate means to expose a person or animal to an antigen purposively in hopes of eliciting protective antibody. To immunize implies that exposure successfully elicited protective antibody. Not all vaccinated organisms are immunized. varying/various - Varying means changing, but various means of several kinds.

while/whereas - While indicates time and a temporal relationship. Whereas, often the word the writer intended, has such meanings as "when in fact," "that being so," and "in view of the fact that."

Exercise 6.3. Devil pairs

Place each member of the devil pair in the proper place in the sentences below.


1. The results of our study were_those of McGowen (1967).

A significant number of study animals staggered_drunks do.


2. Young dogs are very susceptible to distemper, _older dogs are often immune. Cattle often develop respiratory disease _being shipped to market.


3. Clients often have ponds which may be of_sizes. Each group received _combinations of antibiotics over the study period.


4. Although we gave penicillin and terramycin, the drugs had little __The_of the treatment was minimal.

5. Trypsin-catalyzed digestion has the _ of converting the substrate to short-chained peptides. Giving erythromycin _a change in the nuclear shape. In double-blind experiments, researcher bias does not_experimental results.


6. He resigned as a matter of__The_effect of cen-

trifugation was to separate cell types. The_of independent segregation is fundamental to genetics.


7. To determine the appropriate value, one must find the_

of the angle. The authors would like to_Ms. Jones on her diligent effort. In the replication process, DNA and RNA _each other.

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