"Give them the gift of words"


What’s the Difference Between These Words?

Categories: ESL Vocabulary, Vocabulary Building Words, Vocabulary for Success, Vocabulary Improvement Tips | Tags:

Is this a question you often ask yourself? Or do you phrase it more like “I wish I could stop mixing up these two words!” There are many pairs of English words that people confuse, usually because of similarities in spelling and pronunciation. We looked at some of these word pairs in this post and this post, and today we’ll look at another pair of words that frequently gets people into trouble.

poring v. pouring

If you’re trying to figure out the difference between words, you might spend hours in the library, poring over the entries in dictionaries and other reference books. To pore over means to study or to do research. The etymology (the origin and history) of this word is somewhat uncertain, but it may come from an Old English word that meant “to investigate.” One of the reasons that people may get this word confused is that the more common definition of pore is the noun meaning “an opening” that can refer to the pores in one’s skin, or in its adjectival form porous which means “containing openings or passages,” both of which come from the Greek word for passage, poros. Perhaps you could remember this word by thinking of the “passage” of knowledge from the material you’re studying into your brain.

Example: In the closing scene of the movie, we see the wizard poring over a dusty scroll in his dimly-lit library, searching for the counterpart to the spell.

The word pouring is generally a homophone of poring according to most people’s normal pronunciation of the two words, although linguistically there might be a slight difference in the vowel sounds ou and o. Because the words sound the same, the spellings can be easy to confuse. To pour over means to inundate or cover with something, usually liquid or (more metaphorically) sound or noise.

Example 1: This restaurant always gives you a set of three homemade sauces for pouring over ice cream or sorbet when you order either of those desserts.

Example 2: I love to turn up the volume on the stereo when I’m listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and just let the sound pour over me.

Here’s a trick to remembering which spelling to use: the word umbrella starts with a U, and when it’s pouring rain, you need to use an umbrella. Remember this trick, and you won’t have to pore over your written documents, looking for places you’ve confused these two words!