288 THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING lath/lathe These two nouns have different meanings and should not be confused. A lath is a thin, narrow strip of wood (nail the laths in position), whereas a lathe is a machine used to shape wood or metal (an electric lathe). lathe/lath
lawful/legal/legitimate The three adjectives all mean “authorized by law,” but are used slightly differently. Lawful means “rightful” or “conforming with the law” (go about your lawful business). Legal can also mean “of or relating to the law” (a legal career), and legitimate can also mean “valid,” “reasonable,” “genuine,” or “born within marriage” (a legitimate excuse, a legitimate argument, a legitimate claim, a legitimate child). lay/lie These two verbs are frequently confused, largely because lay is the past tense of lie as well as a verb in its own right. Lay means “put down” (lay a carpet, lay a body on the floor) and, as a transitive verb, always has an object (hens lay eggs). Lie means “rest” (lie on the bed; lie down on the grass) and, as an intransitive verb, does not have an object. Further confusion can arise with lie because it also has the meaning “tell an untruth,” although its past tense is not the same (I lay on the couch; he lied through his teeth). leach/leech These two words are unrelated in meaning and should not be confused. Leach is a verb meaning “draw out” or “drain away” (a project that leaches money), whereas leech is a noun referring to a blood-sucking freshwater worm (a leech placed on the arm). lead/led These two words are sometimes confused, although they have different meanings. Lead is a noun referring to the heavy metallic element (an ingot of lead, as heavy as lead) and is pronounced the same as led, the past tense of the verb lead (pronounced leed), which means “take the front” (the tour guide led the way; lead through the dark). leak/leek These two words are pronounced identically but are unrelated in meaning. Leak is a verb meaning “seep away” or “become known” (water leaking from a hose; leak a story to the press), whereas leek is a noun referring to an edible vegetable with a thick cylindrical stalk (a dish of leeks in cheese sauce). learn/teach The verbs learn and teach are almost opposite in meaning but are occasionally confused. Learn means “acquire knowledge” (learn the rules), whereas teach means “impart knowledge” (teach a class).