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Similar, but not the same

Shall we visit for a while, or do you only have awhile before your plane leaves? Huh? If you speak of a while, it is a period of time and could be a long period. If your flight departs in awhile, however, the one word refers to a short time only.

Two other "everyday" terms include this adjective, as well as "every day." The first, one word, means commonplace. The latter two words (every day) create an adverb telling when. If you can say it happens every single day, you need the two words.

There are other similar words, not with the exact same letters, but close enough for us to make errors in their use. Some of these may embarrass us, while others confuse the reader or listener.

Speaking of the one who hears us, aural refers to the ear or hearing. Oral may sound the same but refers to the mouth instead.

Sloppy pronunciation might help us avoid detection if we erred on those last two. Even with just one letter different, though, a mistake with adapt or adopt is difficult to cover. To adapt is to make over for a new purpose. To adopt means to take up, use or assume a position (I can adopt your plan of action). It can also refer to legally taking someone into a family.

If you were to make such a legal transaction, it would mean you were giving your assent (approval) to provide care. And that agreement (assent) might lead you to a long climb to a summit (ascent), as you rise to the challenges of parenthood.

Anyone who has related to children or teens undoubtedly has an anecdote (amusing story) or two to tell. Don’t confuse that with an antidote, which means medicine to counteract some other effect. Think of anti- as to cancel or work against an agent.

I hope none of these words or definitions is ambiguous, open to more than one interpretation, unclear. I also hope that you are not ambivalent about the value of learning them. The latter would indicate you were conflicted or had mixed feelings.

If you find yourself ambivalent (conflicted) as you read, or if my words are ambiguous (unclear), then I need to get it all together and try a different approach. That means I need to put my thoughts all in one place and rewrite. But if I use altogether (one "l" in one word), that is (totally or completely) different. Phew! I’m altogether exhausted.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net.