Easily Confused Words: Abscess vs. Absence

Abscess and absence 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’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Abscess is a verb. It means a bacterial infection surrounded by pus. Most often, an abscess occurs with a tooth.

Absence is a noun. It means the state of not being present at a planned time commitment like a job, government function, ceremony, or schooling.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Rep. Abelard surprised everyone with his absence for Thursday’s crucial vote in the House. What his constituents didn’t know is that several of his teeth had begun to abscess in the last two weeks. He’d procrastinated long enough, and now the pain was unbearable. 

As expected, his opponents saw an opportunity to accuse him of unreliability and flip-flopping on the issue.


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