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Six Confusing Words Beginning with C

By Judy Vorfeld

Time to look at three pairs of words that give many peo­ple problems.

Criteria vs. Criterion

“Criteria” is plural (like “phe­nom­ena”), while “cri­te­rion” is sin­gu­lar, like “phe­nom­e­non.” You have one cri­te­rion or many cri­te­ria. It’s easy to be con­fused, since some words (e.g., “data” and “media”) are the same whether sin­gu­lar or plural. Examples: Angela Allen detailed the six basic cri­te­ria for accept­ing a client…The restau­rant has one cri­te­rion for entry: every cus­tomer must wear shoes or sandals.

Continuous vs. Continual

“Continuous” refers some­thing hap­pen­ing with­out inter­rup­tion. Examples: Living near the free­way means lis­ten­ing to con­tin­u­ous road noise from dawn to dusk…I sat watch­ing the con­tin­u­ous flow of water from Multnomah Falls. “Continual” sug­gests a close, pro­longed recur­rence, hap­pen­ing again and again (reg­u­larly). Examples: Their neighbor’s dog barks continually…The red light blinks con­tin­u­ally when the train is nearby.

Compliment vs. Complement

“Compliment” is more com­monly used. It means say­ing some­thing nice about some­one. Examples: Mari Bontrager com­pli­mented Bob McElwain on his lat­est book. Marsha Kopan com­pli­mented Claudia Slate on her tech­ni­cal sup­port tips. My com­pli­ments to the chef.

“Complement,” much less com­mon, has a num­ber of mean­ings asso­ci­ated with match­ing, com­plet­ing, or per­fect­ing. Examples: My new yel­low socks com­ple­ment my orange shoes…His pur­ple hair com­ple­ments his green eyes…The Air Force base has a full com­ple­ment of pilots.


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