In researching confusables, I have yet to come across a term that describes the type of confusable that is created by two words of similar meaning but different spelling and pronunciation. The term synonyms is defined as being words of the same meaning, but do they also apply to words of similar or related meaning? For example, less/fewer or imply/infer.

PS - Confusables is often referred to as an informal term. Does a form term exist for the concept?

  • 3
    While less and fewer (like farther and further) can be said to have similar meanings (for different applications), imply and infer (like emigrate and immigrate) are opposites. Yes, they are related, but they aren't similar in meaning. They are not near synonyms at all. So, I think you're going to have a hard time finding a word that covers all of the above. Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 14:37

2 Answers 2


Words which learners (and also native speakers) get confused by are simply called "confusing verbs". There may be a linguistic, more technical term that describes this aspect but I'm not aware of one.

Confusing words–or verbs–are notorious for even tripping up native speakers

For example

Other types of confusing words are homophones which are two or more words whose meanings and spellings are different but are pronounced in the same way. Examples:

  • ate vs eight
  • led vs lead (the metal)
  • site vs sight
  • flower vs flour
  • they're vs their vs there
  • to vs too vs two

Words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings are called homonyms

the tree's bark (outer layer) vs most dogs bark (sound)

The stalk of a plant (part of a plant) vs to stalk someone (verb)

Waiter there's a fly in my soup (the insect) vs Come fly away with me (verb)

  • ... less / fewer? between / among? Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 13:38
  • @EdwinAshworth I can't possibly list them all, these are the ones (mostly verbs) that came into my nod. But thanks for the downvote? because...? I was attempting to be helpful to the community by providing a good list of EL&U questions?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 13:57
  • If you wish to do so, you could ask a question clear enough for ELU to make the answer a wel targetted one, answering it yourself. Though lists are still eschewed on ELU. As Tinfoil hat comments above, OP isn't clear about what he's asking here. Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 14:44
  • Earth, land, ground, dirt,
    – BruceET
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 21:54
  • OP inquires about "two words of similar [not synonomous] meaning but different spelling and pronunciation." How does your answer adress this? For example, ate and eight have no similarity in meaning and they don't have different pronunciations. Bark and bark have no similarity in meaning and they have the same spelling and pronunciation. Borrow and lend are not similar in meaning — they are "related" but opposite, and so on. Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 23:02

The term confusables includes words with similar but non-identical meanings like imply/infer and less/fewer. A term that applies principally to similar or related meanings is


(linguistics) A term whose meaning is similar, but not identical, to that of another term. Wiktionary

A word that has almost the same meaning as another word:

The words "hungry" and "peckish" are near-synonyms.

Near synonyms are more common than perfect synonyms.

Near-synonyms may be regarded as equivalent for some purposes, but not others. Cambridge

case. This multifaceted word is often a sign of verbal inflation, especially in its uses as a near-synonym of situation.
include; comprise. The basic difference between these near-synonyms is that include implies nonexclusivity..., while comprise implies exclusivity... Garner; The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage and Punctuation

A list of commonly used near-synonyms

Here are some examples of commonly used near-synonyms for legal concepts used in legal documents. There are subtle differences in meaning or usage between them.

... Rupert Haigh; Legal English p.81

confusable (noun)

Two or more words or ideas that can easily be confused

confusables such as ‘principle’ and ‘principal’ Oxford Advanced Learner's

(The above definition of the singular as "two or more ..." bothers me.)

A word or phrase that is easily confused with another in meaning or usage such as mitigate which is often confused with militate. New Oxford American Dictionary

A word or phrase that is easily confused with another Wiktionary

(I do not see the noun in the OED.)

A related term is partial synonym

See What is the difference between partial and total synonyms?

Synonymy, as we have seen, is defined where two lexemes are mutually hyponymous, in other words where their extensions (and senses) are required to be identical, as shown in (61)
Unfortunately this definition does not allow for partial synonymy, since extensions in the theory are discrete, i.e. there are no fuzzy edges where, for example there may be things that are almost pullovers but that are not a sweater. Since, as we have noted, full synonymy is rarely, if ever, attested, this makes the definition in (61) less useful than it might be. Ronnie Cann; Formal Semantics, p. 220

  • Thanks for help with those terms! Very helpful! Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 15:35

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