Confusing Word Pairs: Adopt and Adapt, Aide and Aid

Four of the most confusable words in English are adopt vs adapt and aide vs aid.

Aide vs. Aid

These two words have essentially the same meaning, which is assistance, yet their applications differ. ‘Aide’ always refers to a person who assists. ‘Aid,’ on the other hand, refers to anything not human that assists or is assistance. It can be a noun or a verb. In the following example, ‘aid’ is a noun: “Financial aid is provided to students.” Here, it is a verb: “The nurse aids the doctors in patient care.” Yet, if we change the word to describe who the nurse is rather than what she does, we get the following: “The nurse is an aide to the doctor.”

Adopt vs. Adapt

To adopt means to take in or acquire. It indicates that one has something he did not have before. To adapt means to alter according to circumstances or environment. You can’t adapt what you don’t have, and can’t adopt what you already have.

A simple trick to differentiating between these two similar words is to think of a phrase in which one is commonly used. “Adopted child,” for example, is a very well-known usage of the words ‘adopt.’ When one adopts a child, he takes the child into his family. The word ‘adapt’ is often used in discussions of biological evolution. Species that quickly adapt to their environment survive. If one keeps these common uses in mind, it will help in selecting the proper word.

Premodifiers with Degrees of Adjectives

Premodifiers are usually adjectives, which come before a noun and modify its meaning. When placed before an adjective, a premodifier describes the adjective and alters its meaning.

There are three degrees of adjectives: positive, comparative and superlative. Positive adjectives are words or phrases that express something about the noun itself. Comparative adjectives express something about a noun as compared to another noun. Superlative adjectives compare the noun to more than two nouns.

This is an example of an adjective used in the positive degree: “The poor man begs.” (The adjective is “poor.”)
This is an example of the comparative degree: “The poorer man begs more.” (The comparative adjective is “poorer.”)
And, finally, the superlative degree is shown here: “The poorest man begs most.” (The superlative is “poorest.”)
When preceding words that don’t admit of -er or -est endings, ‘more,’ ‘less,’ ‘most’ and ‘least’ count as part of the adjective phrase.

Using premodifiers with degrees of adjectives either intensifies or dulls the adjective. Consider the example, “I’m feeling a little better.” The phrase “a little” modifies the meaning of “better,” and is, therefore, a premodifying phrase. Following is a list of other premodifiers used with the comparative degree:

a bit
a lot more

The premodifier “very” can be used with the superlative degree of adjectives to add emphasis. It must be preceded by a determiner, like ‘my,’ ‘a,’ and ‘the.’
For example, “She’s my very best friend.” Or, “You’re the very worst driver!”

Demonstrative Pronouns

Two purposes are served by a demonstrative pronoun in English: It indicates an object without identifying it and expresses the speaker’s proximity to the object.

There are four examples of demonstrative pronouns: this, that, those and these. ‘This’ and ‘these’ refer to objects that are close to the speaker, while ‘that’ and ‘those’ are used to indicate that the object referred to is far away.

There is often confusion between demonstrative pronouns and adjectives. ‘This,’ ‘that,’ ‘those’ and ‘these’ are not always used as pronouns; they can sometimes serve as demonstrative adjectives. Adjectives are words that describe nouns. You can tell if these four words are being used as pronouns or adjectives by observing whether or not the demonstrative word is followed by a noun.

“That car is fast,” for example. Here, ‘that’ is used as a demonstrative adjective because it is followed by the noun it indicates. The word ‘that’ in this example describes something about the car, namely, that it is “over there” as opposed to “right here.” On the other hand, a demonstrative pronoun is the subject of its sentences.

There is one gray area for this rule; demonstrative pronouns can be used in a sentence with the name of the person they refer to. “That is John,” for example. ‘That’ is still the subject of the sentence. ‘John’ gives information about what ‘that’ is. Other than this type of usage in sentences referring to people, demonstrative pronouns are used only to refer to things.

More Confusable Word Pairs

Some of the most confusable words in English are also the most common. They sound the same, but have different meanings and spellings. Here are a few suggestions for sorting through the trickier word pairs.

their vs. there

‘Their’ is a possessive adjective; it shows ownership and describes nouns. Two sisters are playing in a sandbox that belongs to both girls. You’d say, “Mary and Pat are playing in their sandbox.” Other examples of ‘their’ describing nouns: their dolls, their money, their house.

Its sound-alike, ‘there’, is an expression of place, an adverb answering the question, “Where?” It’s also used as pronoun that introduces a sentence. Examples: “My car is parked over there in the shade.” (adverb) “There is only so much time in the day.” (pronoun)

its vs. it’s

‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun, one that shows ownership. ‘It’s’ is a contraction that means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Here are samples of proper usage:
“The cat licked its paws after finishing its supper.”
“It’s a long way from Texas to New York.”‘
“It’s been a beautiful day.”
Still can’t decide which to use? Tip: If you can substitute his/her for ‘its’ in a sentence, you’ve chosen correctly.

you’re vs. your

‘You’re’ is a contraction, the shortened form of ‘you are’. ‘Your’ is a possessive pronoun showing ownership. These sentences contrast the difference between the two: “Your cattle are in the pasture, but you’re going to herd them into the barn tonight.” “Take your complaints to the manager.” “Show him you’re in charge.”