Easily Confused Words: Aerial vs. Arial vs. Ariel

Aerial, Arial, and Ariel are easily confused words. They are also homophones, meaning they are pronounced the same way, but they are spelled differently and mean different things.

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.

Aerial (pronounced “airee-uhl”) is an adjective. It describes things happening in the air, like trapeze performances, aerial dancing, or airplane performances. It also describes things that can fly. For example, an older term for drones is UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle.

Arial (pronounced”airee-uhl”) is a noun. It’s the name of a sans-serif typeface offered in Microsoft Windows applications.

Ariel (pronounced”airee-uhl”) is a noun. It’s a female name. Perhaps the most famous Ariel is the heroine of The Little Mermaid, a Hans Christian Andersen story. After Disney’s animated release in 1989, the popularity of this name took off in the US.

Ariel is also a male character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Ariel’s family took her to see acrobats and trapeze artists as a little girl. She knew immediately she wanted to fly. She enrolled in gymnastics and aerial dancing classes. It was really fun, but it was disappointing she couldn’t do it outdoors, truly flying in the sky. That’s when she discovered planes and flight. Any library book that discussed aerial apparatus proved too irresistible not to take home. 

Fast forward 15 years. She was so proud to graduate from Northeastern. Seeing her name in Arial typeface, next to the words “Aeronautical Engineering” made her eyes tear up. This was really, really happening!


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