Easily Confused Words: Untied vs. United

Untied and united 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.

Untied (pronounced “uhn-tide”) has multiple meanings.

  • As the past tense of the verb “untie”: It means to loosen a bow, tie, or other knot. It can also mean to free from restraints. Untied indicates loosened strings, or something being freed in the past, either literally or figuratively.
  • As an adverb, it describes something that has become loosened or freed, literally or figuratively.

United (pronounced “yoo-nighted”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it means linked by governmental or contractual agreement.
  • As a verb, it’s the past tense of unite. To unite means to join together.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Utah sported untied shoelaces and a resilient, hopeful spirit. Foster care had been a very hard way to grow up. Her family was always changing, some people had been kinder than others. She hoped one day to be united with parents all her own. Her wish would finally come true at age 16.

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