Easily Confused Words: Persuasive vs. Pervasive

Persuasive and pervasive 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.

Persuasive (pronounced “purr-sway-sihv”) is an adjective. It describes a person with the ability to convince others of his/her point of view. Perhaps someone is charming, a great listener, good at finding common ground, good at finding a compromise.

Pervasive (pronounced “purr-vay-sihv”) is an adjective. It describes something that has grown into a substantial presence, something suddenly “found everywhere,” something that’s gone from little presence to becoming ubiquitous or commonplace. Often things that are described as pervasive are new and untested, or quite possibly, a potential menace that will have to be dealt with.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Perez was confident and unflappable. He was very persuasive in convincing his school’s leaders that there was no cause for alarm regarding truancy. The number of students skipping class had become a pervasive problem. Why was he claiming otherwise? It turned out he was paying the students skipping class to perform tasks, pranks, and run errands for him.

It was all very enterprising, and the teens loved the cash. Unfortunately, this scheme ultimately led to his expulsion.


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