Are You Ingenuous or Ingenious?

When I was teaching ESL, lessons on confusing word pairs were inevitable.  The level of the learner was irrelevant.  My students all needed clarification on certain word pairs.  Interestingly enough, I have discovered than even native speakers of English have similar issues.  The words in question may be of a more advanced level, but the confusion remains.  Just take some time to browse blogs, and you’ll find at least one example!

For this week’s grammar post, let us take a look at some of words that are used interchangeably, when they shouldn’t be.

Ingenuous and Ingenious

I’ll be honest here and tell you that I did have a problem with these two words. I suppose it was simply because of ignorance – I used to think that they were the same! There is a difference, though. Let’s call on good old Merriam Webster for some help.

Ingenuous: showing innocent or childlike simplicity and candidness ingenuous thirst for experience — Christopher Rawson>

Ingenious: marked by originality, resourcefulness, and cleverness in conception or execution ingenious contraption>

Next time you are amazed at a new invention/discovery, you know which word to use!

Prosecute and persecute

Let’s take a look at the formal definitions of these words.

Prosecute: to bring legal action against for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law

Persecute: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief

For me, the trick is in remembering  that the “pro” in “prosecute” goes hand in hand with lawyers (professionals).  Persecute, on the other hand, I associate with “informal” harassment.

Turgid and turbid

With only a one-letter difference, it is easy to understand why these two words can cause confusion. There is a big difference, though.

Turgid: being in a state of distension : swollen, tumid <turgid limbs> OR excessively embellished in style or language  <turgid prose>

Turbid: thick or opaque with or as if with roiled sediment <turbid stream> OR characterized by or producing obscurity (as of mind or emotions) <turbid response>

For the first definitions, the difference is easy to spot and remember.  In terms of language and/or response (second definitions), the chances of slipping up may be higher.  Try using these words when you can so that you’ll never forget the proper use!

Now to answer the question that is the title of this post…

Are you ingenuous or ingenious?  I would like to think both! 😉

Photo credit: Kristian D.






3 responses
  1. Anita Avatar

    My two best friends…dictionary and thesaurus! lol Loved the title of your post. One of my favorite gags is using the wrong word when talking with friends to see if they notice…funny!

  2. bert Avatar

    I think this is very helpful in clarifying those confusing words we often encounter

  3. Chris Avatar

    How about “affect” and “effect?” It seems like it “affects” many of the best writers!

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