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Editing Tip: More Pesky Pairs of Similar-Sounding Words

Summary

English has over 250,000 words, so it’s easy to confuse some. Here are some more similar-sounding words found in academic writing and how to avoid their misuse.

Here, we build off another article on “pesky pairs” to outline more English words that sound alike but differ in meaning. Incorrect use of these terms may confuse or distract your reader, so understanding the distinction between the words below can be helpful when communicating your research.

Although/though

The terms although and though can both be used as conjunctions to show contrast, but though also serves as an adverb. Therefore, the following three examples are correct, whereas the fourth is an incorrect use of although:

  • Receptor expression increased in the treatment group, although this increase was not significant.
  • Receptor expression increased in the treatment group, though this increase was not significant.
  • The levels of all cytokines were unaffected. Receptor expression, though, increased.
  • The levels of all cytokines were unaffected. Receptor expression, although, increased. (incorrect)
In contrast/on the contrary

These transitions seem interchangeable but have distinct applications. In particular, in contrast suggests a difference, and on the contrary indicates a contradiction or correction. In other words, the former phrase tends to be descriptive, whereas the latter phrase typically reflects a critique. For example, in contrast may be used when discussing disparate results, and on the contrary may be applicable when refuting a hypothesis or highlighting a potential error in the literature.

  • The viral load of the untreated animals increased. In contrast, the viral load of the treated group decreased.
  • We disagree with the published finding that this treatment decreases viral load. On the contrary, when we performed the experiment, the animals’ viral load was unchanged.
Implicate/imply

Generally, implicate means “to link closely,” and imply means “to suggest.” Note that the words imply and infer are also often confused.

  • The newly discovered protein has been implicated in the pathogenesis of flu infection.
  • The results imply that the newly discovered protein affects the pathogenesis of flu infection.
Assure/ensure

Assure means “to state with confidence” or “to confirm.” In contrast, ensure is defined as “to guarantee.” Note that the word insure, which is less common in scientific writing, has the same meaning as ensure but usually has a financial connotation.

  • We assured the journal that we would submit our revised manuscript by the end of the week.
  • My colleague ensured that I would find the sample by clearly labeling the tube.
Attain/obtain

Whereas attain means “to achieve,” obtain means “to acquire.” In academic writing in particular, attain is frequently employed when discussing fulfilled aims, and obtain is more relevant when detailing actual results.

  • We attained our long-time goal of crystallizing the protein.
  • We obtained the crystallized protein using a novel protocol.
Character/characteristic

Character often refers to a collection of features, and characteristic is used when describing individual features.

  • The drug has a water-soluble character due to its many unique biochemical characteristics.

We hope that this post has elucidated the differences between several similar-sounding English words that are often used in academic writing. If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].

Tags Writing a manuscript Language editing Editing tips Word choice

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