Dear Master’s Programs student,

A colleague recently suggested we do a series on confused words.  Based on some recent student work that I’ve seen, I thought this was an appropriate topic for the weekly tip.

Complement vs. Compliment

Complement (verb): to bring completion or perfection to.  It can also be a noun (something that brings perfection).

Compliment (verb): to praise or admire. It can also be a noun (a statement of praise).

E.g. This beer, imported from Holland, is the perfect complement to our dinner themed “around the world.”

E.g. I complimented Betty Draper on her fine complexion.

Tip: Remember “I like compliments” to help you keep these two words straight.

Principal vs. Principle

Principal (adjective): primary, main

Principal (noun): a person who holds the leading part, as the ~ of a school

Principle (noun): a fundamental belief; a rule of action

E.g. My principal reason for waking up is to play the principal in the new musical.

E.g. Despite his strong principles against public inebriation, Marvin was persuaded to have one extra beer at the pub.

Tip: The principal of a school should be your pal!

Accept vs. Except

Accept (verb): to receive willingly; to agree to

Except (preposition): excluding, with the exception of

E.g. Cersei Lannister found the Stark’s proposal ridiculous and refused to accept the terms of the treaty.

E.g. All of Ned’s children, except Jon Snow, were birthed by Lady Catelyn and are legitimate heirs.

Tip: The “X” in except excludes things.

Elicit vs. Illicit

Elicit (verb): to evoke; to draw forth

Illicit (adjective): unlawful

E.g. Mrs. Blankenship’s passing elicited tears from her sentimental coworkers, but others considered her death an inconvenience.

E.g. George’s continuing illicit drug-use shows flagrant disregard for the law.

Tip: Something illicit is illegal.

Happy (principled) writing!


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