WORDS OFTEN CONFUSED
ing officer” of any kind (commander of the strike force, division commander). Commandeer is a verb meaning “take possession of by force or for military purposes”: He commandeered the jeep for his own use. The building has been commandeered by the army. commandeer/commandant/commander ER/COMMANDEER.
common/mutual/reciprocal The adjectives common, mutual, and reciprocal are close in meaning but are not always interchangeable. Common means “joint” or “shared” (a common interest), whereas mutual means “shared by two or more people” (mutual hatred) and reciprocal means “done in return” (reciprocal feelings). compel/impel The verbs compel and impel both basically mean “force” but are subtly different. Compel suggests an overwhelming element of obligation: He was compelled to complete the work. Impel suggests the influence of an internal urge instead of external obligation: He felt impelled to act. Note that impel can also be applied to the driving forward of inanimate objects: The boat was impelled backward by the wave. competition/contest The nouns competition and contest mean much the same thing, but there are subtle differences between them. Competition can denote rivalry of virtually any kind, whether organized or not (win the competition, competition between siblings, competition for food), whereas contest suggests rivalry with a degree of organization (an archery contest, a contest in three heats). Note also that competition can also refer directly to the opposition: We face strong competition this year. complacent/complaisant These two adjectives sound similar but have different meanings. Complacent means “self-satisfied” or “smug”: The authorities have been complacent in not doing something sooner. Complaisant means “inclined to please or oblige” (a complaisant bow). complaisant/complacent