Look-Alike and Sound-Alike Words

 

The English language is confusing, and no one knows that better than the clever people who write SAT questions. Hundreds of words look remarkably similar to other words, but their meanings are most often completely different. For example, consider prodigal and prodigious. The first means wasteful of money, the second means big. You may be unfamiliar with either one. Adding to the trouble, you know the word prodigy, and will try desperately to use that knowledge to figure out the other two words. It won't work. You'll scramble around, glancing nervously at the clock. You'll eliminate a few choices, then either guess or leave the answer blank. And the SAT will have won again.

 

So what's the solution? You must first be aware of the tactic. And you now are. Then you must become familiar with the sources of this confusion, namely the actual words used most frequently by the testmakers. And finally, you must learn what the words mean -- really learn them, so the tactic no longer works.

 

Here's a simple example. At some time in your life, probably many years ago, the words trick, track, and truck may have looked very similar to you. It would have been easy, then, to mess you up on a question by substituting one of these words for another. But you're now so familiar with the words that you can always tell them apart and never confuse their meanings, even though they still look almost identical to each other. But what happens with less-familiar words? Given the time and emotional pressures of the SAT, will you realize that inane and innate are not the same words? And will you remember their meanings? Will you catch the distinction between causal and casual, even though you probably know the difference?

 

What follows is a partial list of look-alike and sound-alike words. They are favorites with our friends in SAT-land. Make sure you know them. And be aware that there are plenty more!