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Give me a break! Six common words you’re getting wrong


I dunno about you but after our last apostrophes blog post, I think taking it down a notch may not be the worst idea! This post will discuss six commonly confused words including Breath and Breathe, and Desert and Dessert.


Brake and Break

While these words are both pronounced exactly the same, there is a slight spelling difference.

Brake: This only refers to slowing down a vehicle. You use your brakes when approaching a red light, and also when someone randomly cuts in front of you with no notice. As a verb, you would say ‘I am braking’ and ‘I braked’. Also note handbrake, not handbreak.

Break: This refers to all other types of breakages (pun intended). Did you ever break one of your mum’s vases as a kid? I know I did! As a verb, you have ‘breaking’ and ‘broke’, e.g. I also broke the shed window with the football.

Other uses of break:

  • Nadal has one break point against Federer
  • After you’ve run a massive marathon, your body might feel broken
  • If your wife leaves you for your best friend and takes half your stuff, you could say you’re a broken man. You’ll most likely be short on money at this point, so you could say you’re broke.

Desert and Dessert

This one confuses even me at the best of times and it’s to do with the pronunciation. But first, let’s look at the regular uses of both words as it’s less confusing.

Desert: Pronounced dez-ert, a desert is a place which is very dry and hot and is mainly made up of sand, e.g. The Sahara.

Dessert: Pronounced like deserve but with a t sound at the end instead of a v, a dessert is the sweet course of a meal, e.g. ice cream, cake, pie, doughnuts, pastries, etc. (Sorry to make you hungry).

So once you know the pronunciation, it’s all plain sailing, right? Wrong! I swear someone made this up just to screw with people. Desert can also be used as a verb and it means to abandon someone: to desert. And guess what? Used in this way, the pronunciation is exactly the same as that of dessert! Yep, so like deserve but with a t sound at the end. If you’re in the army and you walk out on your troops, you’re known as a deserter. The past tense of this is deserted, e.g. I deserted my troops in the desert cause I was too hot.

Can you see the confusion?? Luckily, desert isn’t used so much as a verb. However, it does exist so you need to know!

Even Homer finds this one confusing!

Just to screw with you, let’s look at a phrase which utilises this confusion:

He got his just deserts

This phrase basically means that someone got what they deserved. Just deserts. Not just desserts, even though that’s how it’s pronounced. Confusing = yes! This one even confused me at one point! It definitely doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why. Luckily this phrase isn’t used too much these days. If you can avoid this phrase, do it!

How can you remember the spelling difference? Well, strawberry shortcake is a dessert, right? There are 2 s’s in dessert – one for strawberry, and one for shortcake. And would you eat strawberry shortcake in the desert? No; because there’s only one s.

How nice does that dessert look? How nice does the desert look? Unless you like mouthfuls of sand, I recommend the dessert.
I guess you could call this a desert plate…
How good are language puns?
I mean seriously.

Fun fact: ‘Desserts’ spelled backwards is ‘stressed’.

Breath and Breathe

These two words stem from the same word but one is a noun and one is a verb.

Breath is the noun, which means you can chuck ‘the’ or ‘a’ before it:

  • Seeing her walk into the classroom, smiling at me was like a breath of fresh air
  • After swimming underwater, he rose to the surface and took a deep breath.

In terms of pronunciation, breath is pronounced like death.

Breathe is the verb:

  • Tom Dickson usually ends each episode of Will it Blend? by saying ‘Don’t breathe this’
  • She breathed in air using a gas mask as she was doing a tour of Chernobyl.

Pronunciation wise, breathe rhymes with teethe.
Once you know the difference in pronunciation between the two, you’re less likely to forget which word is which.

Let’s look at two incorrect examples:

  • I wish we could breath underwater, like fish
  • I wrote my name in the breathe on the mirror.

Draw and Drawer

Once again, we have the same pronunciation for these two, hence the confusion.

Draw is a verb and primarily refers to the act of drawing something, whether it be a picture, stick figure, or even an architectural plan. There are other uses of draw though:

  • Drawing a bath for yourself after a long day at work
  • Drawing out your sword because the other knight teased you
  • Drawing water from a well
  • Being thankful that the musical you got dragged to was drawing to an end
  • Drawing your drunk friend away from your parents for fear she’ll cause embarrassment
  • A lottery draw.

drawer is something you put your things away in. Your underwear and socks go in drawers; cutlery always goes in the top drawer in the kitchen; you might have a craft drawer in your home. Drawers, not draws.

While we’re on the topic, the phrase is ‘Chest of drawers’, and not ‘Chester draws’.

Draw vs drawer
Another funny pun. In this case, drawbridge is actually one word and not two, so you could argue that this guy is merely following instructions. Take a look at other words which are sometimes written as two words in my Is this one word or two? posts: Part 1 and Part 2.

Fiancé and Fiancée

This one is pretty simple. Is the person you’re marrying a male or a female? Hopefully you’ve figured this out before you pop the big question. If the person you’re marrying is a male, he’s your fiancé. If the person you’re marrying is a female, she’s your fiancée. Yes, it’s that easy! In terms of pronunciation, both are pronounced exactly the same way.

To recap, male has one e in there. Male: one e = fiancé.
On the contrary, female has 2 e’s in it. Female: two e’s = fiancée.

Other gender specific words:

We might look at some of these in a future post but the same rule applies with these: the one with the e at the end is the feminine/female version of the two.

As we’re moving towards gender neutral things in this century anyway, these words having two different versions may soon be a thing of the past.

Steal and Steel

Once again, pronunciation wise, these two words are exactly the same. In terms of meaning, on the other hand…

Steal: If you steal something, you’re taking something without someone’s permission. Thieves steal from cars. In the Ocean’s Eleven series, the main characters steal from casinos. The past tense of steal is stole, e.g. it was your co-worker who stole your pen. Okay, they probably borrowed it, but guilty until proven innocent, right?

Steel: This is a type of metal, mainly used in construction because of its toughness. Sometimes soft drinks also come in a steel can. Steel, not steal.

Let’s look at some incorrect examples:

  • That Henry Cavill is so ripped in Man of Steal. I watched it like six times!
  • In the next mission in GTA, you have to steel a police car.