Dessert is the sweet course eaten at the end of a meal. What’s your favourite? I’m an absolute sucker for lemon meringue pie, but I also love a creamy lemon cheesecake.
A dessert wine is, similarly, sweet and intended to be enjoyed after a meal.
The key thing to remember is that this is the only meaning for this spelling.
Fun fact: ‘desserts’ is ‘stressed’ spelt backwards, and an anagram of ‘de-stress’. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe that can be a coincidence.
The word ‘desert’ is used when someone gets what they deserve, and it is said they have “got their just deserts”. It is usually used in a punitive way – ‘getting your just desert’ is generally not considered to be a pleasant experience.
Because this is a “thing” that happens, this use of the word is also a noun.
Fun fact: this is a phrase that came to us from French via Shakespeare, who used it in Sonnet 72, albeit in a more positive way than is usually done. So anyone using the word ‘desert’ in this way is using Shakespeare’s language without even realising it.
The word ‘desert’ can also mean abandoning or running away from a place. A soldier who goes AWOL is said to desert their post, while rats are said to ‘desert a sinking ship’ as a metaphor for people disowning or abandoning a place, person or situation that has become painful, awkward or insupportable.
When we say a place is deserted, it does not mean it looks like a desert. It means that there are no people around – everyone has departed.
Finally, a desert is a place that doesn’t get much rain, and is quite barren as a result.
This is the only meaning that sees ‘desert’ pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable:dez-ert
This makes it a homonym, not a homophone.
Because it’s a place, this is also a noun.
Fun fact: while the Sahara Desert is hot and sandy, Antarctica is the world’s largest cold desert.
You can use a sentence to help you remember the three different words that share this spelling. Saying it aloud will help you remember which is which. Example: The soldier got his just deserts for deserting his post in the hot desert.
I am still coming to terms with the fact that this post needed to be written. How do people not know these are different words?
Apparently, though, it’s an all-too-common problem. Social media is littered with posts where someone has answered with “Defiantly!” when what the responder really meant to say was “Definitely!”.
It happens in my own conversations several individuals on a regular basis. In fact, it happened again just yesterday, so I took a screenshot with this blog post in mind.
I don’t know whether autocorrect is to blame, presumably as a result of poor typing, or if it’s just plain old-fashioned ignorance. The answer to that probably varies from one perpetrator to another, but either way, continuing to mistake one for the other is inexcusable.
Definitely means “for sure” or “absolutely”. In fact, those are excellent choices for anyone who wants to agree with something, but doesn’t actually know how to spell “definitely”.
Here’s a hint, though. Definitely even sounds exactly as it is spelt: def-in-it-ely. It’s phonetically straightforward.
Therefore, anyone trying to spell it should get to the ‘a’ in ‘defiantly’ and know they’re making bad choices.
Defiantly is a word most often used by parents or teachers describing the way in which a child refused to do as they were told. Examples: The child sat in stony silence, arms crossed defiantly. “No!” Robin yelled defiantly, “I won’t apologise for being a grammar snob!”
You get the idea.
It’s definitely in your interests to get this right.
Today I received an email which included the line, “It doesn’t matter who’s responsibility it is…”
Written by a professional who should know better, it was ironic that it was me, and not them, doing a massive facepalm.
This incorrect use of the homophone “who’s” instead of “whose” is a common error, but that doesn’t make it excusable.
The apostrophe in “who’s” signals that it is a contraction— a shortening of two words into one, so that “who is” becomes “who’s”. Alternatively, it can also be a contraction of “who has”. You can tell which one it is by determining if the sentence is in past or present tense,
Examples: That’s the boy who’s a really good actor. Who’s in charge around here? Who’s been eating my porridge?
‘Whose’ is a pronoun of ownership.
Examples: This is the farmer whose cows ate all my corn. Whose car is that?
Once you know the difference, it’s fairly straightforward. That means there is absolutely no excuse for getting them wrong, even if they do sound the same when spoken.
Fun fact: “it’s” and “its” work exactly the same way.
Some word confusions are understandable, especially if they sound the same when spoken. We call those homophones, and they sound the same even if they are spelt differently. Examples are peak/pique/peak or there/their/they’re.
The confusion between ’then’ and ’than’, however, is a completely different matter.
Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially on social media. I don’t even spend that much time on Facebook, but it feels like I see someone saying something like “Nothing is better then this!” or “I love you more then anything!” at least twice a day.
Yes, they are similar. However, they are clearly not the same. They don’t look the same. They don’t sound the same. If one doesn’t mix up ’then’ or ’than’ with ’thin’, there is no excuse for mistaking them for one another.
I swear, it makes my eyes want to bleed.
The two words’ meanings are so vastly different that getting them wrong just makes the person writing look either poorly educated or plain stupid, even if they are neither.
This is one of the best and most self-evident arguments in existence for proofreading what one is writing, anywhere and every time.
‘Then’ rhymes with ‘when”— which is an easy way to remember that it relates to time or sequence. Examples: He put on his shirt, then his jeans, and then his boots. She ran up the hill, then back down again. When you have tidied your room, then you can go to the movies.
‘Than’ rhymes with ‘man’ and is used for making a comparison. Examples: His piece of pizza is bigger than mine. A triangle has fewer angles than a square. I would rather stay home and read a book than go to work.
Knowing which is which, and taking care to use the right words all the time, is a simple way to protect your credibility.
And for the love of Merlin’s beard, if you call yourself an author or a teacher, get it right. It’s not that hard.