Easily Confused Words: Undo vs. Undue

Undo and undue 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.

Undo (pronounced “uhn-dew”) is a verb. It means to reverse an action on a computer application. In the physical world, “undo” would involve going back in time and not doing what was done; that’s just not possible. Making a correction or a reversal are the closest courses of action.

  • A related word, undoing, is a noun. It’s another way of saying a downfall, a big collapse, or failure.

Undue (pronounced “uhn-dew”) is an adjective. It describes someone or something receiving undeserving, unwarranted negative attention, or someone unfairly targeted by bad events or attitudes.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Umberto felt he received undue harassment in his first year as new President of the club. His predecessor, Undine, had been very popular and well-liked during her term.

Umberto had disagreed with everything she’d done, so he worked to undo it all: overturning this, reversing that. It was hard to understand why people were so upset. Why didn’t people like what he wanted to do? It all seemed very unfair.

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