WORDS OFTEN CONFUSED
civic/civil/civilian These three words are closely related but remain subtly different in meaning. Civic means “of or relating to a city or community” (civic affairs, civic duty), whereas civil means “of or relating to citizens” (civil rights, civil responsibilities), and civilian means “not in the armed forces, police, firefighters, and the like” (retire from the army into civilian life). Note that civil can also mean “courteous” or “polite.” civil/civic/civilian
classic/classical The words classic and classical have different meanings, although they do overlap in some contexts. Classic variously means “excellent,” “traditional,” or “typical” (a classic performance, classic style, classic symptoms), while classical may refer to the world of ancient Greece and Rome, to music composed before the modern period, or to anything considered authoritative or traditional (classical archaeology, classical opera, classical mathematics). classical/classic
clean/cleanse Both clean and cleanse refer to the business of eliminating dirt, although cleanse suggests a more thorough washing or purification. Note that clean may be used as a verb, noun, adjective, and adverb (clean your face, give the house a clean, clean hands, wiped clean), but cleanse may be employed only as a verb (cleansed of impurities). cleanse/clean
clench/clinch These two verbs are easily confused because they are close in meaning; both mean “hold fast” or “close tightly.” But whereas clench can refer to a range of subjects (clench the rung of the ladder, clench your teeth), clinch is usually reserved for gripping or embracing a person (clinched in a bearhug), although it can also be used figuratively (clinch a deal). client/customer The nouns client and customer have slightly different meanings and are used in different contexts. A client suggests a professional relationship (the clients of a law firm), while customer denotes a less formal relationship (customers in a shop). Client or clientele or patron may sometimes be preferred to customer when emphasizing the exclusivity of the relationship involved (patrons of this establishment). climactic/climatic These two words are unrelated in meaning, despite their superficial similarity. Climactic is an adjective derived from climax (the climactic scene in the play), while climatic is an adjective derived from climate (extreme climatic conditions).