Catriona's Proofreading Tips: False Friends

diversity [daɪˈvɜːsɪtɪ]
1. the state or quality of being different or varied

Catriona Tippin aka @ProofreadingTip looks at some words with differences for you to think about - False Friends

The phrase ‘false friends’ usually applies to words from different languages which sound similar, for instance:

  • Italian ‘triviale’ sound like trivial… but means vulgar
  • Spanish ‘embarazada’ sounds like embarrassed… but means pregnant

Here’s a quick guide to my top twenty UK English false friends, heterographs and homophones, look for these when you’re proofreading:

affect / effect
Main uses, and where confusion occasionally occurs: Affect – as a verb – usually means to influence eg ‘the conditions affected the team’s performance’ Effect – as a noun – usually means result eg ‘the conditions had an effect on the team’s performance’ There are rarer uses too: effect as a verb (to accomplish eg ‘to effect change within the team’) and affect as a noun (psychological term for an apparent mood).

asterisk / Asterix
small superscript punctuation mark / small Gaul resisting Roman occupation

allude / elude
make an indirect reference / evade or escape

choose / chose
present tense and future tense (I choose a partner, I will choose a partner tomorrow) / past tense (I chose a partner yesterday)

currant / current
tiny sultana / (1) now or (2) flow of water, electricity, etc (remember ‘e’ for electricity)

defuse / diffuse
deactivate an explosive / spread out

drier /dryer
adjective meaning ‘more dry’ / electrical appliance to dry things (tumble… hair…)

elegy / eulogy
a poetic form on a sad subject / a speech praising the deceased person at a funeral If the speech at a funeral isn’t in verse, it isn’t an elegy

elicit / illicit
to draw out or obtain (info) / illegal or against the rules

flaunt / flout
show off or display / disregard or defy
Using flaunt for flout is an occasional mistake you hear on broadcast media. I think the English language is demonstrating its ability to change and absorb a new meaning with this one. It may not need to be corrected eventually – but it does just now!

faze / phase
to disturb or disconcert / to plan or carry out in stages (also (noun) a stage of development) So something is ‘phased out’ not ‘fazed out’ (and phasers are something completely different, aren’t they, Mr Spock?)

lama / llama
Tibetan teacher / South American mammal

loose / lose
saggy, the opposite of tight or contained / suffer the loss of or miss

maudlin / mawkish
over sentimental / falsely sentimental

mannequin / manikin
model – for display or on the catwalk / tiny man

pastiche / parody
playful literary exercise / satirical literary exercise

pedal / peddle
foot operated component / travel about selling goods, often used to describe the sale of illicit (see above) goods

stationary / stationery
not moving / writing materials (remember ‘e’ for envelope)

slight / sleight
small, slim / trickery, as in ‘sleight of hand’

and, finally, the subtle differences of …
rebut and refute
These are not contradict or deny, and they are different from each other – when you rebut a statement you bring clear evidence against it, when you refute it you prove it wrong…
“That’s a ham sandwich”
“No it’s not, it’s cheese” (contradiction)
“It’s ham”
“The wrapper says cheese” (rebuttal)
“It’s ham”
Peel back top slice of bread to reveal cheese “Look!” (refutation)

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for two national educational charities, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. Thank you, Catriona - a hugely helpful article. And I always struggle with 'stationary/ery' so will be using your 'envelope' tip!

  2. Great tips. I muddle choose/chose and passed/past.

  3. Catriona, this is SO useful plus a very interesting list! The difference between mannequin and manikin for example, was a revelation:)

  4. Brilliant - my favourite is 'small Gaul resisting Roman occupation'. Love it. Very helpful, thanks.

  5. Thanks all, I'll include passed/past the next time I compile a list like this.

  6. There's a huge amount of houses of worship out there... The interesting thing is that in the event that you solicit any from these, "Are you all a false church?" They will all say no. Some might even start to let you know how the various ones are false places of worship and how theirs is the main right one. False cover

  7. It has almost been initiated with possible values which students and other professionals need to understand and favorably will help them to ease their career.


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