Two pairs of frequently confused words
Today I thought I’d blog about two pairs of frequently confused words. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but never quite felt strongly enough about it to do so; but now I’m waiting in for a man to come and repair my boiler so this is a good way to while away the time. The first pair of words is partake/participate. They start off in a similar way and their meanings are not completely disconnected so it is not surprising that people mix them up. It’s often thought that partake means take part. It sounds as if it should. But it means share, usually in the context of food; it’s a synonym for have a bit, when other people are having a bit too. “Are you partaking?” you might ask somebody after you’ve cut up a cake, if they look as if they can’t make up their mind whether to have any. Participate, on the other hand, does mean take part, or join in. You participate in an activity rather than a cake. We should also note that they are followed by different prepositions: you partake of, but participate in.
The other pair of words is common and commonplace. People often use the latter instead of the former, in the belief that it’s a more impressive way of saying it: same meaning, extra syllables. But the meaning is not the same. Common means popular or widespread, of course. Commonplace, however, is a more negative term for something that’s hackneyed, trite or over-obvious: a commonplace remark, for instance. It can also be used as a noun, to mean a familiar fact: “It’s a commonplace that the youth of today perceive the world through their smartphones.”
Well, that passed the time. But the boilerman still hasn’t come.