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Richard Nordquist

Quiz on Commonly Confused Words (Winter 2013)

By February 8, 2013

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You know the drill: ten questions, two minutes, correct answers at the end of the post. (For explanations, examples, and exercises, follow the links to our Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words.)

  1. Abstruse or Obtuse
    "After dinner there was a new tenor, who was less of a delusion than most new tenors are; and there was a great deal of very aesthetic and _____ talk about music; she said little herself, but sat and listened to Della Rocca, who spoke much and eloquently with infinite grace and accurate culture."
    (Ouida [Marie Louise Ramé], In a Winter City, 1876)

  2. Accidental or Incidental
    "The only story she'd heard that was more tragic was the _____ death of a three-year-old who'd sneaked out and crawled behind his mother's Camaro to surprise her when she left for the grocery store."
    (Nevada Barr, Winter Study, 2008)

  3. Bathos or Pathos
    "This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment, insomuch that a listener, comprehending nothing of the language in which the preacher spoke, might still have been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence. Like all other music, it breathed passion and _____, and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human heart, wherever educated."
    (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850)

  4. Broach or Brooch
    "As I finished a pop quiz and waited for the final bell to ring, I played with the star _____ pinned to my sweater and wondered how bad this cold was going to get."
    (Margaret Buffie, Winter Shadows, 2010)

  5. Cel, Cell, or Sell
    "[Charlotte] spent the solitary hours watching the light form patterns on the walls of her _____. But one day she made contact through the pipes with the woman in the _____ below her, and discovered that she had a book, Stendhal's Chartreuse de Parme."
    (Caroline Moorehead, A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Survival in World War Two, 2011)

  6. Farrago or Fiasco
    "On the way back we passed a suburban garden where the owner was picking modern shrub roses whose shades were a _____ of Day-Glo reds and oranges. Humphrey stopped unsteadily, stared at the scene much as one might at a junk dealer gluing Formica onto a Chippendale table, and screamed 'Vegetable rats' at the hapless grocer."
    (Richard Mabey, Weeds, 2010)

  7. Limp or Limpid
    "You let your body grow _____--the classic strategy of passive resistance developed in the South during the civil rights movement--thinking the cops would carry you out of there without any fuss, but the members of the Tactical Patrol Force were angry that night."
    (Paul Auster, Winter Journal, 2012)

  8. Pail or Pale
    "An hour later, as the _____ winter sun rose towards its zenith, Friar Simeon scraped the last drop of stew from his bowl and drained the last dregs of ale from his cup before giving a contented sigh."
    (Kate Sedley. The Wicked Winter, 1995)

  9. Pain or Pane
    "A few light taps upon the _____ made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again."
    (James Joyce, "The Dead," 1914)

  10. Poor, Pore, or Pour
    "They walked into the living room, and she sat down while he went to _____ the wine."
    (Luanne Rice, The Edge of Winter, 2007)


  1. abstruse
  2. accidental
  3. pathos
  4. brooch
  5. cell . . . cell
  6. farrago
  7. limp
  8. pale
  9. pane
  10. pour

More Quizzes on Commonly Confused Words:

Blackboard: adapted from A Pun My Word: A Humorously Enlightened Path to English Usage by Robert Oliver Shipman (Rowman & Littlefield, 1991)


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