Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Subtle Differences


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Today, we’re going to discuss words that basically mean the same, but have subtle differences, like repellent and repulsive or contagious and infectious. These slight distinctions can elevate the quality of your writing.

Contagious, infectious

Contagious and infectious both basically describe a disease that is communicable, according to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). However, it notes that a “contagious disease spreads by direct contact with an infected person or animal,” while “an infectious disease is spread by germs on a contaminated object or element.”

Partly, partially

CMS explains that both “convey the sense ‘to some extent; in part,” such as in the phrase “partly responsible.” Partially “has the additional senses of ‘incompletely,’ as in 'partially cooked' and ‘unfairly, in a way that shows bias toward one side,” as in “he treats his friends partially.”

 Repellent, repulsive

Both words refer to the state of driving people away, but CMS brings attention to a slight difference. “‘repulsive’ has strong connotations of being so disgusting as to make one feel sick,” CMS states.

Repetitive, repetitious

This word pairing is the same in that they both mean occurring over and over, but CMS is quick to point out repetitive is “fairly neutral in connotation.” Repetitious, however, “has taken on the nuance of tediousness that induces boredom,” CMS notes.

Rob, steal

This is an interesting one. We all know rob and steal are verbs that mean “to wrongfully take [something from another person].” But rob takes it one step further by also including “a threat or act of harming, usually but not always to the person being robbed,” CMS states.

That amps it up a bit, doesn’t it?

EFG Digest
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These books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of the Bibliophiles series, contemporary fiction with a sprinkling of the classics, and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


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