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Close, but no cigar, cigarette, cigarillo

Homonyms may be either pronounced the same (homophones) or spelled alike (homographs). Some words that have neither the same sound nor identical letters can still have similarities that lead to confusion and misuse.

Sometimes these words have only mild disparity. A sculptor is the artist himself, while a sculpture is the piece or work. A pastor is a member of clergy, and a pasture may serve as a cow’s dinner table.

Some words may be only one letter different, but their meanings have no connection. If you rent out a building, the occupant is a tenant, but a tenet is a principle or dogma held by a philosopher (like the thinker). You are probably familiar with a species being a category in the animal kingdom; are you aware that specie is money in the form of coins?

And then there is a casualty, one injured or killed in an accident. Causality is the relationship between cause and effect. Perhaps that means that the causality of the casualties in the crash was speed.

You make an effort to elicit (bring out) enthusiasm in your colleagues, but it is hoped that this will not encourage illicit (illegal) activities.

If you have lived as long as I, you may have a home full of relics (from the past); yes, I include myself here, too. The less-used relict has a similar definition but a few more specifics. It refers to a widow left behind, a surviving species of otherwise extinct organisms, a relief feature or rock remaining after other parts have disappeared, or just something unchanged. And if this last word seems unfamiliar, it could be because some consider it obsolete.

In modern slang, if you have booked a job as a musician, you have a planned gig (short for engagement); however, that innocent little word also refers to such possibilities as a horse-drawn carriage, a boat, or a fishing spear. We want to be certain we reference the correct noun. And, of course, if your happy feet just enjoy dancing to the music, feel free to do a jig.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net