Easily Confused Words: Portend vs. Pretend

Portend and pretend 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.

Portend is a verb.  It means to act as an indicator of future events, to signify, or to hint at.

Pretend is a verb.

  • It can mean to imagine new identities and scenarios and act them out. This is a typical behavior for small children.
  • It can also mean when one acts as if events have happened or are happening differently than they actually have. For example, to pretend someone isn’t in the room, or to pretend not to hear a request.
  • It can also mean acting or seeming inauthentic in encounters with people.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Peyton was concerned about her relationship. Did Peter’s tendency to tune her out, to pretend she wasn’t talking, portend a loss of interest in what she had to say, or something more than that?

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