Easily Confused Words: Deaf vs. Deft

Deaf and deft 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.

Deaf (pronounced “d-eh-ff”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it means a person or creature that is unable to hear. Deaf persons in the USA communicate via ASL. Many countries have their own sign language (click the “countries” link to learn more.)
  • As an adjective, it can describe a person or group who isn’t listening to a complaint or questions, or ignoring a big problem.
  • As a noun, it means a people or creatures unable to hear.

Deft (pronounced “d-eh-ft”) is an adjective. It means skillful with one’s hands.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Delphina became deaf in her preteen years. She was given the option of wearing hearing aids; she declined. Instead, she eagerly learned ASL. She was introduced to a whole new community she previously knew little about.

She noticed how deft a person’s hands needed to be to effectively speak ASL. Occasionally the face was involved in expressing emotions, but it was mostly in the hands. 

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