Easily Confused Words: Berth vs. Birth

Berth and birth are easily confused words. They are homophones, meaning they sound alike, but they are spelled differently have different meanings.

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.

Berth (pronounced “burth”) is a noun.

  • It can mean a spot where a boat, ship, or sub is anchored.
  • It can mean the space a boat occupies in relation to the shore or other boats.
  • It can mean a rank or position on a boat or in naval military office.
  • It can mean sleeping quarters on a boat, train, or other mass transportation vehicle.
  • It can mean a job or role.

Birth (pronounced “burth”) has multiple forms.

  • As a verb, it means to eject a fetus from the womb once the water sac enclosing the fetus has burst.
  • As a noun, it means the event of a creature being born.

The following story uses both words correctly:

It was 1840. Beatrice was 9 months pregnant. She and her husband, Beatty, were on a large boat headed to America. They were huddled into a small berth with many other couples and families below the main deck. Just a few days into the journey, Beatty became deathly ill and died. Beatrice was devastated. 

The day they arrived in Boston, she gave birth to a baby girl, with the help of strangers from Scotland, Germany, and Spain.

What would she do as a mum alone in a new country? she wondered. Libby, short for Elizabeth, was an older Scottish woman who had helped with delivering the baby. She suggested the two women share a flat.

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