Easily Confused Words: Indulgent vs. Indigent

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.

Indulgent (pronounced inn-dull-gint) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it describes someone who always follows impulses for luxury or pleasure, or allows their dependents to behave this way without correction or reprimand.
  • As a noun, it means the monetary gifts made to the Church in medieval times in order to lessen their suffering in Purgatory after death. The selling of indulgences is one of many grievances Martin Luther held against the Church, and they motivated him to start his own Christian sect, the Lutherans.

Indigent, pronounced (inn-dih-gint) is an adjective. It means lacking the required elements or necessities. It can also describe someone who is lacking basic necessities, like housing, clothes, or food.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Ingmar lived in a high price penthouse, always wore designer labels, and knew how to throw a party people talked about for weeks after. Most casual acquaintances felt he was indulgent about everything. What they didn’t know, and what Ingmar didn’t flaunt, was his generous and socially conscious side. He regularly tutored at-risk youth. He also fed homeless and indigent people on weekends at the local shelter.


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