False Friends by Proofreading Tips


The phrase ‘false friends’ usually applies to words from different languages which sound similar, for instance:


Italian ‘triviale’ sound like trivial… but means vulgar.

Spanish ‘embarazada’ sounds like embarrassed… but means pregnant.


Here’s a quick guide to my top twenty UK English false friends, heterographs and homophones - look for these when you’re proofreading:


affect / effect

Main uses, and where confusion occasionally occurs:

Affect – as a verb – usually means to influence eg ‘the conditions affected the team’s performance’

Effect – as a noun – usually means result eg ‘the conditions had an effect on the team’s performance’

There are rarer uses too: effect as a verb (to accomplish eg ‘to effect change within the team’) and affect as a noun (psychological term for an apparent mood).


asterisk / Asterix

small superscript punctuation mark / small Gaul resisting Roman occupation


allude / elude

make an indirect reference / evade or escape


choose / chose

present tense and future tense (I choose a partner, I will choose a partner tomorrow) / past tense (I chose a partner yesterday)


currant / current

tiny sultana /  (1) now or (2) flow of water, electricity, etc (remember ‘e’ for electricity)


defuse / diffuse

deactivate an explosive / spread out


drier /dryer

adjective meaning ‘more dry’ / electrical appliance to dry things (tumble… hair…)


elegy / eulogy

a poetic form on a sad subject / a speech praising the deceased person at a funeral

If the speech at a funeral isn’t in verse, it isn’t an elegy


elicit / illicit

to draw out or obtain (info) / illegal or against the rules


flaunt / flout

show off or display / disregard or defy

Using flaunt for flout is an occasional mistake you hear on broadcast media.  I think the English language is demonstrating its ability to change and absorb a new meaning with this one.  It may not need to be corrected eventually – but it does just now!


faze / phase

to disturb or disconcert / to plan or carry out in stages (also (noun) a stage of development)

So something is ‘phased out’ not ‘fazed out’


lama / llama

Tibetan teacher / South American mammal


loose / lose

saggy, the opposite of tight or contained /  suffer the loss of or miss


maudlin / mawkish

over sentimental / falsely sentimental


mannequin / manikin

model – for display or on the catwalk / tiny man


pastiche / parody

playful literary exercise / satirical literary exercise


pedal / peddle

foot operated component / travel about selling goods, often used to describe the sale of illicit (see above) goods


stationary / stationery

 not moving / writing materials (remember ‘e’ for envelope)


slight / sleight

small, slim / trickery, as in ‘sleight of hand’


and, finally, the subtle differences of …

rebut and refute

These are not contradict or deny, and they are different from each other – when you rebut a statement you bring clear evidence against it, when you refute it you prove it wrong…

“That’s a ham sandwich”

“No it’s not, it’s cheese” (contradiction)

“It’s ham”

“The wrapper says cheese” (rebuttal)

“It’s ham”

Peel back top slice of bread to reveal cheese “Look!” (refutation)

This list appeared in Words & Pictures online magazine as False Friends 1 with two more useful lists available as False Friends 2 and False Friends 3