Easily Confused Words: Cloths vs. Clothes

Cloths and clothes 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.

Cloths (“klawths”) is the plural form of cloth. A cloth can be a piece of fabric. It can also mean a washcloth or towel used for bathing or cleaning furniture.

Clothes (“klohz”) is a noun. It means any fabric item worn to dress the body, i.e., shirts, pants, suits, skirts, or dresses.

Clothes (“kloh-thz”) is a verb. It means to provide clothing for, via purchase, or via industry, or earning wages.

So how do you know when it’s the noun clothes, and when it’s the verb clothes? The context of the sentence, or the rest of the words.

  • If the word is performing the action, it’s the verb clothes.
  • If it’s the subject or the object of the action, it’s the noun clothes.

[What’s incredible to me is that, with experience reading and reading aloud, our brains learn to deduce word tense choices without missing a beat. What clothes are you wearing in the morning? Which designer clothes your favorite actress at this year’s Oscars? Neat, huh?]

The following story uses both words correctly:

Clothilde ran a number of businesses. She owned a cafe, a hair salon, and she was a clothes designer. To reduce waste from her designs, she made cleaning cloths from the scraps.

She was immensely proud to be an independent women, the kind who feeds and clothes her family without financial assistance. Knowing she was lucky in this respect, she felt it was important to give back to young women in her community, mentoring them, and nurturing their careers.

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