Tag: commonly confused words

Complacence vs. Complaisance

I must admit that I've confused these two words - complacence and complaisance - many many times over the years.

I always had to look them up to make sure I had the right one, which is why I came up with this little method of keeping them straight in my head.


Complacent refers to someone who is pretty satisfied with himself and his life. It's often used to describe complacent rich kids or the complacent 1%. I just remember that compl-ACE-nt has the word ace in it, because it means you think that you're pretty ace!

If the word looks French to you, then this tip will be easy! Complaisant refers to someone who is eager to please - or in French plaisir - other people. Even though it's pronounced just like complacence - the two words are homophones - when I'm on my own, I tend to say complaisance with an exaggerated French accent to help me remember which word I'm referring to.

Sagacious vs. Salacious

These two words - sagacious and salacious - look so similar and yet their definitions couldn't be more different!


Just remember that sagacious is related to sage - which is just a fancy vocab word for mentor or wise man/woman. Sage also refers to an herb that is incredibly yummy in a butter sauce with gnocchi, but I'm guessing that's not the usage that you'll be tested on for the SAT/ACT.

Technically, salacious is related to being lecherous or lustful. However, I like to remember it in the context of salacious celebrity gossip. I'm not talking about People or E! or US Weekly. I'm talking about the likes of TMZ, Hello!, and Star - where you can always find the real (and sometimes fabricated) dish on your favorite celebs. On these sites, the more tawdry and salacious the gossip, the better!

Stationary vs. Stationery


These two words are mixed up all the time. It's not a surprise given that they're perfect homophones.

In fact, if you google both words - stationary and stationery - you'll pretty much get the same results. Lots of websites where you can buy pretty paper and envelopes, right?

But no matter what Google says (about people's search terms), they're technically different words and shouldn't be used interchangeably.

  • StationAry is the SAT/ACT vocabulary word that means standing still. In other words, a lack of action - like a stationary bike. So A = no action.

  • StationEry is the word that refers to pretty paper and matching envelopes that women, in particular, love to buy from places like Etsy. So E = excessively elegant and expensive writing materials.

Allusion vs. Illusion vs. Delusion

The easiest way for me to remember these three words is to remember where they fall on a continuum.

They all essentially refer to something that is not physically visible or present at the moment, but each word offers a slight twist on that concept.



This is the word most anchored in reality. Allusion simply means an indirect mention of something. So for example:

"So ... I hope it's okay that I invited Jack to the party."

"If you're alluding to our recent break-up, don't worry. It was amicable."

Allusion is often used as a literary device. So for example, many authors will allude or make allusions to things without outright stating them - which means that you, as the reader, have to infer what they're really saying.