Easily Confused Words: Plates vs. Plaits

Plates and plaits are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway. Similarly, autocorrect on mobile phones might suggest one word instead of the other, it would be easy to do since both words start with “p-l-a.”

Plates (pronounced “playts”) is the plural form of the noun plate.

It means the flat, 6-9 inch serving pieces that people eat off of at a sit-down meal. Plates can be made of a number of materials, i.e., baked clay or porcelain, styrofoam, plastic, or paper. Typically, the more fragile plates are used for formal dinners and special occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Disposable or recyclable plates are used for casual dining, cookouts, and outdoor picnics.

It can also mean a meal or snack serving of food.

In seismology, tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface shift and sometimes collide. This is what causes earthquakes.

Plaits (US: “playts”/”platts”; UK: “platts”; ) is a noun. It is means hair or straw sections woven into braids.

The following sentence uses both words correctly:

Mother didn’t want Pleiade touching the silverware or the plates until she’d cleaned up a bit. “Please wash your face, put your unruly hair in plaits, and brush your teeth. Then come back and help me, Pleiade.”

This post relates to another post: Easily Confused Words: Platte vs. Plait


4 thoughts on “Easily Confused Words: Plates vs. Plaits

  1. Query received 1-10-17: elaiine cooper
    Hello Kathleen,
    I need your help. My roommate insists on pronouncing the word “plait” as plate. Would you please till him that plait rhymes with flat, and not plate. I am from South Carolina, he is from Nebraska. Please help

    1. Hello fellow South Carolinian. I’m afraid I can’t take sides here. The short answer is you’re both right. I’ll use a phonetic spelling for convenience. The Cambridge dictionary says the UK: “platt,” US:”plate.” I’m going to guess when they say US they mean NYC since it’s such a historic media capital for our country, they didn’t take a poll of all 50 states. Dictionary.com says both pronunciations are acceptable, and it doesn’t make a geographic distinction. Merriam-Webster says “plates” in its audio pronunciation offering, but lists both, and again, no geographic distinction. If you wish to consult others, by all means. I’d love to hear what they say because I’d be interested to know when a discrepancy happened. Generally speaking, I think many Americans are compelled to pronounce every letter we see in a word. Exposure to other languages or other ethnicities, or being an ethnic minority ourselves, helps us see that that’s not always the case in other languages. Here’s a funny coincidence: I was watching Amazon series Fleabag recently and noticed the main character said “platt” in regards to her sister’s braids. I hadn’t noticed alternative pronunciations for that before. Now I’ve had two.
      If you don’t mind I’m going to move this inquiry and response onto the “plates” and “plaits” post for reader convenience.
      [BLOGGER’S NOTE: This query originally appeared on a different page of this site. I moved it because it relates to this post.]

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