Easily Confused Words: Woe vs. Whoa

Woe and Whoa 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 sharing letters doesn’t mean related words.

Woe is a noun. It can mean feeling persistent sadness, misfortune, or grief. It can also mean an individual problem or trouble.

Whoa is an interjection. When horseback riding, “whoa” tells the horse to stop. In conversation, a person saying “whoa” means they are surprised by what happened, what was just said, and they are lost for words.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Wowashi was full of woe and withdrawn. His parents, at a loss for what to do, sent him to his uncle’s horse stables to help out for the summer. Working with animals was just what they boy needed. When his father called to catch up, the sound of his son’s enthusiastic voice was surprising.

“Hey Dad!”

“Whoa, is this really my son I’m talking to?” he asked.

“Yes, Dad, it’s really me, Wowashi. I’m glad I came here. Do I really have to come back home in August?”,


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