Words can have more than one basic meaning and some words sound similar but have a completely different denotation. For example:
(Wrong) Older people often suffer infirmaries. (a place for the sick)
(Right) Older people often suffer infirmities. (disabilities)
Some words are homonyms (sound-alikes) but mean very different things. For example, principal/principle or rain/reign/rein.
Then there are words with similar but distinct meanings.
(Wrong) Television commercials continuously (unceasingly) interrupt programming.
(Right) Television commercials continually (regularly) interrupt programming.
Which vs That.
"Which" is used to introduce non-restrictive clauses (extra but not essential information) such as in The leftover lettuce, which is in the refrigerator, would make a good salad. "Which" needs a comma preceding it. "That" always introduces restrictive clauses: We should use the lettuce that Susan bought. (This limits the lettuce to a specific lettuce.) "That" does not need a comma.
And some words have related meaning (denotation) but different connotations:
• Pride—sense of self-worth
• Vanity: excessive regard for oneself
• Firm: steady, unchanging, unyielding
• Stubborn: unreasonable, bullheaded
• Enthusiasm: excitement
• Mania: excessive interest or desire
“For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We should indeed be careful what we say.” — Confucius.
What are some words you've used or seen used that fall into these categories?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.