Easily Confused Words: Respite vs. Despite

Respite and despite are easily confused words. They are spelled almost identically, but they don’t rhyme. Yeah, it’s one of those situations.

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.

Respite (pronounced “rehss-pitt”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a noun, it means a state of relief from an obligation, law or rule.
  • As a verb, it means giving someone leniency or mercy in regards to a rule or other obligation.

Despite (pronounced “dihss-pie-tt”) is a preposition. It is used to indicate an exception is being made.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Dusty, the health inspector, didn’t like Reza. It was hard to believe her excuses for failure to follow the rules at her restaurant. Despite his feelings, he wasn’t going to allow that to cloud his judgement at work. It would look petty and reflect badly on his team. He was going to give her some respite, giving her three months to get her affairs in order, and correct her mistakes. Once that period expired, she would have to maintain quality and show good faith. If she failed, she would be fined harshly, and possibly put out of business.


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