Confounding Confusables: Part V

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2020-11-03

Our blog series on confusables has remained popular over the years, so we thought it was time to post a new list. This one includes some explanations of confusables you’ve likely heard in the news recently.



Epidemic vs. Pandemic


Both these words are used for disease outbreaks, which I suppose is why it’s so easy to confuse them. The main difference between the two terms has to do with scale.


An epidemic disease (used as a descriptor) is one that affects many people at the same time, and “spreading from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently present” (according to WHO). An epidemic occurs at the level of a region, or community.


When used as a noun, epidemic means “a temporary prevalence of a disease.” An example of this usage would be “Toronto stopped the flu epidemic before it spread outside the GTA.”


Lastly, you may have heard epidemic used with regard to situations that don’t involve disease, as a signifier of the rapid spread/increase in occurrence of something. An example of this usage would be “The hipster trend gave way to an epidemic of man buns and beards.”


A pandemic, on the other hand, is the next level of an epidemic. It refers to an epidemic or an epidemic disease that has spread throughout a large area, such as an entire country. Although it is commonly reserved for diseases that have spread across an entire continent, or the globe. Such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.



What About Endemic?


Endemic is a word that is also used commonly in epidemiology. Its means “natural to, confined to, native to, or widespread within a place or population of people.” In this sense, it is used to refer to a disease that is prevalent in, or restricted to, a certain area, region, or population. For example, malaria is often described as being endemic to tropical regions.


Endemic can also be used to refer to plants or animals, and in this context it means native to the area, such as “The trillium is a flower that is endemic to Ontario.”



Assure vs. Ensure vs. Insure


If you assure someone, you are telling them that something will definitely happen or is definitely true. For example, “Sarah assured her five-year-old-son that Santa was coming,” or “John assured me that everything would be fine.”


Ensure, in contrast, means to guarantee or make sure of something. For example, “Sarah ensured the gifts were wrapped,” or “John took steps to ensure he had everything in writing.”


Lastly, if you’re insuring something, it just means you’re taking out insurance for it, as in an insurance policy. For example, “Our new home is insured,” or “I forgot to insure my car.”



Advice vs. Advise


This one is pretty simple! Advice is a noun so you give someone advice, but advise is a verb, so it’s something you do. For example, “The advice I gave her is to not get involved,” or “I advised her to keep the story to herself.”



Abhorrent vs. Aberrant


Abhorrent describes something that inspires disgust and loathing, for example, “Racial discrimination is abhorrent.”


In contrast, aberrant is often used in a negative way to describe something that has deviated from the ordinary accepted standard, i.e., not normal or typical. For example, “His rowdy behaviour at the party was aberrant.”



Cite vs. Sight vs. Site


To cite someone means to quote their work as evidence for an argument in a scholarly work, such as a journal article, book, or thesis. For example, “I cite Johnson (2008), who found that…” or “How to cite an article in APA.”


Sight, as you probably know, is the ability or power to see things! It can also mean a thing that one sees, such as “My childhood home was a familiar sight.”


If you are using the word site, you’re probably referencing the spot where something is built, being built, or to be built. In this context, it refers to the area of ground on which a town, building, or monument is constructed, as in “The proposed site of the emergency tent hospital is being discussed at City Hall.”


In more recent years, site has also evolved to become the short form of website, as in “The site had tons of pop-up ads.”



Bookmark Your Solutions


I hope these tips help you in your future writing (and speaking!) experiences. I find that for many confusables, once the difference really sticks, I don’t need to check it again. I hope the same goes for you, but if not, feel free to bookmark this page for future reference!


For more on confusables, check out the earlier entries in our series:


English Morphs

Confusables, Part I

Confusables, Part II

Confusables, Part III

The Return of Confusables: Part IV