Easily Confused Words: Effluent vs. Affluent

Effluent and affluent 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.

Effluent (pronounced “eff-flu-ehnt”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it describes water or other liquid flowing from a source into something else. Figuratively, it can mean something flowing or moving steadily from A to B.
  • As a noun, it means the water, liquid, or other resource, that’s doing the flowing.

Affluent (pronounced “ahh-flu-ehnt”) is an adjective. It describes something pertaining to wealthy or rich persons, their tastes, or their lifestyles.

The following story uses both words correctly:

A lot of domestic unrest can stem from income inequality over the course of 20-40 years. In these situations, income is effluent, likely it’s drifting upwards into the pockets of the affluent, out of the marketplace, and away from the lower income groups. The lower income groups are forced to get by with stagnant incomes and rising costs of living. Had that income flowed downwards, lower income groups would have spent the money and stimulated the economy at the same time. 

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