'Cite' vs. 'Site' vs. 'Sight'

Spotting the differences
What to Know

Cite, site, and sight are easy to confuse because they sound identical. Sight is the most common; it's usually concerned with the act or action of seeing, as in "a beautiful sight." Site is about location; a "construction site" is the location where something is being constructed, and if a business is to be "sited in a city" it will be built or placed there. Cite is usually about quoting someone or mentioning something, as in "citing a source" and "to cite a recent example."

Cite and site and sight: they sound the same and are completely unrelated to one another in meaning, use, and history. Sigh: thanks, English.

Fear not, we have our sights set on setting these straight.

girl using coin operated binoculars

There's the usage advice, right over that way.

The Meaning and Usage of 'Cite'

Cite is usually about words, in one way or another. An article that "cites an expert" quotes that person; to "cite a recent example of something" is to mention that thing as an example. Someone "cited for" some admirable act is officially and publicly honored, but if you are legally "cited for" some wrongdoing, you are ordered to appear before the court to answer for it. Cite is from the Latin citare ("to rouse, call on, summon"), source too of citation and recite.

The Meaning and Usage of 'Site'

Site is about location. It can refer to the present, former, or planned location of something, such as a building's "construction site"; to a place where something important happened, as in "the site of the battle"; or to a place that is used for a particular activity, as in "an archaeological site." It's also the word in website, which is often shortened to site. Site can also function as a verb: if a building is to be "sited in" a particular location, it will be built there. Site comes from Latin situs, meaning "place, position, site."

The Meaning and Usage of 'Sight'

Sight is typically related in some way to seeing. Sight is the ability to see, but also the act of seeing ("caught sight of an eagle") and something seen ("a wonderful sight"). You can go sightseeing to see the "sights of" a city, and if you "set your sights on" something, you are figuratively looking toward it as a goal. Sight can also be used as a verb: if you "sight a whale," you see one. Sight comes from Old English gesiht, meaning  "the faculty or act of sight, thing seen."

An Easy Way to Remember 'Cite' / 'Site' / 'Sight'

If the distinction between these words continues to elude you, we recommend you associating cite with citation, sight with eyesight, and site with situate. It's a darn sight easier than straight-up memorization.