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As part of our series on tricky word pairs, this post will introduce 4 word pairs/groups that can be confusing and misleading. We will first go through each pair thoroughly to clarify their specific definitions and usage. At the end of the post, we will have a revision practice for you to test your knowledge.

1. Disinterested VS Uninterested

Disinterested: unbiased, impartial
As he is neither Catholic nor Protestant, he is in a good position to sketch a disinterested overview of the longstanding conflict between the two groups in Belfast.

Uninterested: not interested; not having feelings or mind engaged
The uninterested children did not pay any attention to the teacher’s insightful remarks about Dostoyevsky’s oeuvre. 

 2. Extenuate VS Attenuate

Extenuate: to lessen the seriousness of an offence by giving reasons
The court judged that the woman’s repeated theft of food is extenuated by her poverty and the hunger of her young child.

Attenuate: to reduce the force or value of something
The heat from the fire is attenuated by the thick glass door of the stove.

 3. Averse VS Adverse VS Avert VS Aver

Averse: strongly disliking
While the Catholic Church is generally averse to same-sex marriage, the local priest explicitly expressed his support for the recent marriage equality campaign.

Adverse: preventing success, harmful
Despite adverse conditions such as drought and lack of sunlight, the plants flourished in their new environment.

Avert: to turn away; to prevent
After averting world-wide war by forcefully beheading the villain, Superman quickly averted his eyes from the gruesome view of his decapitated enemy.

Aver: to declare positively
The referee averred that football is played with eleven players on each side.

 4. Effete VS Effuse VS Effect

Effete: having lost strength or vitality [from Latin effetus (usually in fem. effeta) “exhausted, unproductive, worn out (with bearing offspring)]
After centuries of intermarrying, the aristocracy of Europe had grown effete.

Effuse: to flow out [from Latin effusus “poured out,” past participle of effundere “pour forth, spread abroad; to lavish, squander, waste”]
His friend effused great joy after receiving his gifts and kind words.

Effect: a change which is the result of a cause [from Latin effectus “accomplishment, performance” from past participle stem of efficere “work out, accomplish]
The effect of their hunger strike was already apparent in their skinny bodies and the hungry look in their eyes.

*Some students confuse effect and affect. To affect is to have an effect on something; for example, cold temperatures have a negative effect on my energy as they affect my ability to sleep well at night.

Now test your knowledge of these 11 words with these five sentences:


Effect Adverse Extenuate Disinterested Aver Effete Attenuate Avert Effuse Averse Uninterested

  1. The music director _____________ great enthusiasm for the recital while the _____________ students barely stirred from their insipid air.
  2. The migraines that come with taking that medication are only part of the lost list of ___________ and frequently crippling side ______________; it is no wonder then that many patients have become ______________ to taking those drugs.
  3. The ______________ judge ruled that the accused’s lack of knowledge about the legal system failed to ________________ his grave offence.
  4. Using sunscreen may not ________________ all chances of skin cancer, but it does significantly _______________ the overall effects of UV radiation on our skin.
  5. The dictator continues to _______________ that his military power is formidable when, in fact, it has weakened and become ______________ over the past years.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out the rest of the series on tricky word pairs.

Answers to the above:

  1. effused, uninterested
  2. adverse, effects, averse
  3. disinterested, extenuate
  4. avert, attenuate
  5. aver, effete

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