Easily Confused Words: Barley vs. Barely

Barely and Barley 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.

Autocorrect also tries to anticipate what word you want based on the first few letters. But words that happen to share letters don’t necessarily share meanings.

Barely is an adverb, therefore it is used in combination with a verb to enhance the verb’s impact. Like in the phrase, “I barely made it” indicates a person who almost didn’t arrive to their destination on time. Just saying “I made it” could be an expression of pride, or relief, and since there’s no context provided, you don’t know if the speaker created something, or arrived somewhere. By adding the “barely”, it clears the meaning up: the speaker is relieved to have arrived.

Barley is a noun, it means a grain used to make alcoholic beverages, or added to soup or pudding. In alcohol, malted barley is mashed and added to water to create malt extract. In soup or pudding, barley grains are used in place of noodles or rice to create a more filling dish. Barley has vitamins and minerals, and contributes to healthy gut bacteria.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Barbara entered a brewmaster competition with the highest hopes, but her new assistant barely ordered enough barley and other ingredients for her to brew an entry batch. So when  her Bock Yer Socks Off make the finals, she was astonished. It almost hadn’t happened at all. 


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