Easily Confused Words: Prawn vs. Pawn

Prawns and pawns 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 suggests words that start with the same letters. It suggests what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions couldn’t be more off base and produces humorous results.

Prawn is a noun. It means small crustaceans that feed on the bottom of the ocean, like a tiny lobster. Here in the US, we call them “shrimp”, but in the UK they are called “prawns.”

Pawn has multiple forms:

  • Pawn the verb means to sell something you own in exchange for cash. The pawn shop who buys your stuff resells it to someone else, or you can come back when you have the money and buy it back.
  • Pawn the noun means pieces on a chess board. They are the smallest, lowest worth pieces on the board, and they form the front line for each player.
  • Pawn the noun can be used as a figure of speech. It can mean something small or low in value used in negotiations.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Paz was a gifted chess player, slicing through her opponents pawns with ease. Her favorite snack was prawns with cocktail sauce. 

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