Easily Confused Words: Dilate vs. Dilute

Dilate and dilute 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.

Dilate (pronounced “die-late”) is a verb. It means to expand, to cause to widen or make larger. Dilation is the noun form, which means something being widened or expanded.

Dilute (pronounced “die-loot”) is a verb. It means to add water to a substance to decrease its intensity or potency. In plain language, it means “to water down.”

The following story uses both words correctly:

Dilwyn needed to dilute solutions for a chemistry lab assignment. She had a headache, though, she was having trouble concentrating. Her vision was blurry. Earlier that day, her optometrist told her they needed to dilate her pupils to look for potential eye disorders. Unfortunately, her pupils were slow to shrink back to proper size.

She decided to go home for now; she would come back and try to complete the assignment tomorrow.


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