Easily Confused Words: Hollow vs. Hallow

Hollow and hallow 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.

Hollow (pronounced “hawl-oh”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb, it can mean to carve out a space: “hollow out.”
  • As a noun, it means a village or small residential area for one or more families. Author Washington Irving made Sleepy Hollow, NY famous. If you’ve ever been to West Virginia, there’s lots of hollows (aka “hollers.”)
  • As an adjective, it means something empty on the inside. It can be an object with solid walls, but nothing is within those walls. It can be a carved indentation in a surface, like an animal’s burrow in the ground or a tree. Figuratively, an event can be described as hollow if the victors feel it’s not significant or meaningful.

Hallow (pronounced “HAL-oh”) is a verb, it means to make something holy, divine, or worthy of reverence.

The past tense, hallowed, is an adjective. It describes something holy, divine, or worthy of reverence.

At the end of October, Halloween happens, it’s the eve of All Saints Day, but its become a holiday all its own.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Hallam was caretaker of a nearby cemetery. He hollowed out the surface soil and planted fresh flowers at the grave sites on special occasions. He cleaned graffiti off the stones. He kept street litter off its hallowed grounds.

It was a very quiet job. Not many visitors stopped by to visit their loved ones’ remains until November came around. 

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