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Except when we use right to denote direction, what is the difference between these two terms?

Also, which one is the preferred construction between these two

Am I right?

or

Am I correct?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'd say that there is a subtle distinction between the two, in that "correct" implies that the given answer (or answers) is definitive and absolute, as might be the case, for example, with a simple maths problem.

In contrast, "right" would be better for an answer which, although considered appropriate, is still matter of opinion (even if most people agree). This might apply, for example, to a question of ethics ("is this the right thing to do?"); again, using "correct" here would imply that there is an absolute answer that no-one could possibly disagree with.

"Right" can still be used in places where "correct" would be appropriate (such as a maths problem), but not the necessarily the other way around.

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1  
If "right" implied the meaning you suggest, then one would say "Is this a right thing to do?" rather than "the right". –  delete Aug 23 '10 at 13:24
1  
@Shinto: hmmm; I see what you're saying. If the speaker suspects that there are multiple possible right answers, then this ought to be OK...yet it sounds wrong. Perhaps there's an implicit assumption that there is an optimally right answer (i.e. one that is somehow more right than the others), which is specific enough to justify using "the" rather than "a". –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 23 '10 at 14:37
    
In my view there is no difference. I would say the opinion that Steve Melnikoff gives is an interpretation that is not in the two words. correct is the Latin form and right is basically the same connected with Latin rect-us. We say That's absolutely right. But right has also the meaning to the right side, so correct is sometimes clearer as it is unambigous. –  rogermue May 7 at 7:36

They are synonyms, but I'd reserve the use of correct for either formal usage ("The mathematical proof was shown to be correct") or as a verb ("correct one's behavior")

The writer will otherwise risk sounding pedantic or pretentious.

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I always make sure to use 'correct' when someone is asking about directions. Otherwise it's like Laurel and Hardy:

Them: So I go left on Elm Street?

Me: Right.

Them: Oh, I'm sorry. So I turn RIGHT on Elm. Then-

Me: No, no, you go LEFT on Elm.

Them: Huh?!

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For me, I'd say right refers to the moral, culturally acceptable and generally practiced, while correct refers to the legal, law-backed and generally adopted.

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By definition they have the exact same meaning.

Modern English, however, is a mash-up of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and Norman (French), linguists often refer to it as Anglo-Norman English. This gives us many cases of synonymous words such as "trash"(OE) and "garbage"(F) or "weep"(OE) and "cry"(F).

Because the Normans were usually the only ones educated, English words of French origin are often considered to be more technical, thus "correct"(F) carries a more definitive implication. Whereas words from the Old English are considered to be more emotional (and therefore found more often in poetry) thus "right"(OE) is more often used to imply opinion.

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