Easily Confused Words: Single vs. Signal

Single and signal are easily confused words. This is one of those situations where a similar set of letters changing order can make all the difference.

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.

Single (pronounced “sing-guhl”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a noun, it means to be a bachelor or bachelorette, an unmarried person. It’s also used to describe people not in a romantic relationship.
  • As an adjective, it describes something solitary or solo; a product sold on its own, or packaged individually.

Signal (pronounced “sihg-null”) is a noun. It means a light or other indicator used to communicate information. Signals use color, motion, flashing, or other pattern to convey their messages. For example, traffic lights signal drivers to go, stop, or slow down.

Figuratively speaking, it can mean gestures, eye contact, or other non-verbal cues people and animals use to communicate with each other. These signals can be deliberate or more subconscious in nature.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Sheng was rarely single, while his friend Roger struggled to find dates. With a big party just days away, Roger was growing increasingly frustrated. It sounded like everyone had a date but him. 

“What am I doing wrong, man?” 

“Dude, you’re giving off a lot of the wrong signals,” Sheng said. “Be a better listener, and may a little less, er, neurotic?”


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