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Should You "Flush Out" or "Flesh Out" Your Plan?

Commonly Confused Words, Vol. 2


Question:

To provide more details, should you flush out or flesh out your plan?

Answer:

flesh out

How to remember it:

Think of fleshing out a skeleton. To flesh out something is to give it substance, or to make it fuller or more nearly complete.

To flush out something is to cause it to leave a hiding place, e.g., "The birds were flushed out of the tree." It can also be used figuratively, as in "flush out the truth."

Question:

Do your shoes compliment or complement your outfit?

Answer:

complement

How to remember it:

If one thing complements (with an "e") another, it completes that thing (e.g., the shoes complete your outfit, or make it perfect). Complement comes from the Latin word for complete.

If you compliment something, you express admiration for it.

And when something is given free as a courtesy or favor, it's complimentary.

Question:

Do the appetizers precede or proceed the main course?

Answer:

precede

How to remember it:

Consider the prefix, pre-. It means "earlier than," or "before" - as we can see in a phrase like preexisting condition, or in the word prefix itself.

To precede is to go or come before, or to be earlier than.

The root of proceed means "to go forward," a meaning we can see in a sentence like "Let's now proceed with the meal."

Question:

He does nothing accept or except complain?

Answer:

except

How to remember it:

Keep in mind the link between except and exception.

In an example like the one above, except introduces the only thing not referred to by the previous statement - in other words, it introduces an exception.

Question:

Is this room hotter than or then a sauna?

Answer:

than

How to remember it:

Use then only when you're talking about sequences and time, e.g., "First we'll go here, then we'll go there."

When you're comparing things, as in the example above, use than. (If it helps, consider that than, like compare, has an "a.")

For more information, please see our "Ask the Editor" video.

Question:

Is an overly-elaborate plan best described as torturous or tortuous?

Answer:

tortuous

How to remember it:

Torturous (with a second "r") really does suggest torture, the word it comes from. It's reserved for things that are very unpleasant, painful, difficult, or slow.

But something that is tricky, complicated, or circuitous - such as an overly elaborate plan - is tortuous. Think of twists and turns, and consider a related word: torque, which refers to a force that causes something to rotate.

Question:

Is danger imminent or eminent?

Answer:

imminent

How to remember it:

Think of the first syllables of immediately and imminent to remember that imminent means "about to occur" - often in a threatening sense.

Eminent means "prominent" or "famous."

As it happens, these words have a shared root: -minent comes from a Latin word meaning "to project" or "to stand out." In imminent, this root originally suggested something like a threatening overhang above your head; in eminent it suggested something conspicuous.

Question:

Does the process involve a number of discrete or discreet steps?

Answer:

discrete

How to remember it:

Try this one: "discrete" means "separate" - so picture the letter "e," divided from its twin in both discrete and separate.

Discreet has an entirely different meaning: it's often used to describe something not likely to be seen or noticed (e.g., "He made discreet inquiries about the job").

Question:

Does the manager persecute or prosecute the employees?

Answer:

persecute

How to remember it:

To prosecute someone you need a legal process, something most managers don't have.

To persecute is to harass people or treat them unfairly or cruelly.

Not surprisingly, given these words' similar meanings and spellings, persecute and prosecute share an ancestor: they both come from a Latin word meaning "to pursue."

Lose/Loose

Question:

Did the speaker loose or lose his train of thought?

Answer:

lose

How to remember it:

Think of the related words lost, loser, and loss: they all have just one "o."

Loose and lose cause confusion partly because the spelling of lose is odd: it looks like it should rhyme with nose, but instead it rhymes with shoes. Loose, on the other hand, rhymes with words you'd expect it to rhyme with: goose, caboose, moose, noose (but not, of course, choose.)

Want more? Please see our list of Commonly Confused Words, Vol. 1.




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