Words Most Likely Confused

Let’s face it, languages are pretty irrational, often terrifyingly (or beautifully, depending on how you look at it) messy, and so every language that I know of has words which are so close to each other you can mix them up pretty easily.

And before you go around knocking Latin for having this same tendency, English is one of the worst culprits: think of ‘night’ and ‘knight’,, for example. Or this, my favourite sentence when my Latin students complain about Latin being too confusing:

I’m on my way to get a loan from the bank so I can build a house on the bank of the Swan River, because I was banking on the prices rising… but the traffic’s really banked up!

Yeah, okay, I know that’s a pretty unlikely sentence to come up in real life, but you can’t deny that all four of these are completely different meanings, two of them nouns and two of them verbs. Except for the verb endings on the last two, they all look the same, and yet I’ll bet you didn’t struggle to understand, did you?

Thought not. Well done.

Anyway, that caveat aside, here’s a list of words most commonly confused. When you’re looking at it, it can be helpful — and very interesting — to consider the relation between them. For example, 'clavus, clava, and clavis thematically have the same idea of something that drives into something else.

  • ager (land); agger (earthwork, rampart)

  • aes (bronze); aer (air)

  • aetas (age); aestas (summer); aestus (tide)

  • audere (to dare); audire (to hear)

  • aura (breeze); aurum (gold); auris (ear)

  • cadere (to fall); caedere (to kill); cedere (to yeild)

  • calidus (warm); callidus (cunning)

  • canere (to sing); canis (dog); canus (white-heared man)

  • clavus (nail); clava (club); clavis (key)

  • concilium (meeting, council); consilium (counsel, advice, plan)

  • consul (consul); consulere (to consult); consulatus (conulship)

  • constituere(to decide); cinsistere (to stop); constare (to cost)

  • dicare (to consecrate); dicere (to say

  • equus (horse); eques (rider)

  • esse (to be); esse - with a long ‘e’ (to eat)

  • ferre (to bring); ferire (to strike); fere (almost)

  • fortis (brave); forte (by chance

  • frons, frondis (leaf); frons, frontis (forehead)

  • fugare (to drive out); fugere (to run away)

  • fundare (to found); fundere (to pour)

  • iacere (to throw); iacere (to lie) down

  • iter (a journey); iterum (again)

  • indicare (to point out); indicere (to declare)

  • labor (work, toil); labi (to slip)

  • latro (a thief, brigand); latrare (to bark)

  • latus (broad); latus (brought); latus (side);

  • liber (free); liberi (children); liber (book)

  • levis (smooth); levis (light, i.e. not heavy)

  • malus (bad, evil); malus (mast, apple-tree); malum (apple); malle (to prefer)

  • manere (to stay); manare (to drip)

  • manus (hand); manes (spirits of the dead)

  • mora (delay); mors (death); mos (custom, manner)

  • morari (to delay); mori (to die)

  • modo (only); modo (way i.e. ‘in that way’)

  • nequaquam (by no means); nequiquam (in vain)

  • nitere (to shi); niti (to struggle)

  • occasus (setting, e.g. a sunset); occasio (opportunity)

  • opera (services, pains); opem (help); opes (means, e.g. ‘a man of large means’); opus (task, work)

  • oriri (to rise); ordiri (to begin)

  • os, oris (face); ora, orae (rim, region, shore); os, ossis (bone); orare (to pray)

  • parare (to prepare); parere (to be obedient); parere (to produc, win); parcere (to show mercy)

  • passis(pace); passus (having endured)

  • pecus, pecoris (cattle); pecus, pecudis (animal)

  • porta (gate); portus (harbour); portare (to carry)

  • populus (a people, nation); populus (poplar-tree)

  • popularis (democratic); populari (to ravage)

  • quaerere (to seek, look for); queri (to complain)

  • questus (having complained); quaestus (profit)

  • quidam (a certain, a particular); quidem (indeed)

  • quouque (each, ablative of quisque); quoque (also)

  • referre (to bring back); referre (to concern)

  • reus, rei (defendant); res, rei (thing)

  • sol, solis (sun); solus (only); solum (soil)

  • servare (to save); servire (to be a slave)

  • serere, sevi, satus (to plant); serere, serui, sertus (to join)

  • securus (care-free); securis (axe)

  • tamen (yet, however); tandem (at last, finally)

  • umquam/unquam (ever); usquam (anywhere)

  • uti (as); uti (to use)

  • valles/vallis (valley); vallum (wall)

  • vastus (wide, vast); vastus (empty, waste)

  • venire (to come); venire (to be on sale)

  • victus (living); victus (conquered); victum (lived); vinctus (bound, tied up)

  • vir (man); vis (violence); vires (strength)

  • vita (life); vitare (to avoid)

A long list, I know! You can download it as a pdf here.

Some people might want to point out that many of these words only look the same, but in reality they sound different because of different vowel lengths. This is certainly true, but I refuse to put in macrons or any indication of vowel length, simply because if you pick up a book of real Latin, or look at a Latin inscription, you’re not going to find it, so you might as well get used to it now. You might disagree, but that’s the way I am.

Hope this helps!