Easily Confused Words: Turn vs. Tern

Turn and tern 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.

Turn (pronounced “tuhrn”) has multiple forms.

  • As a verb, it means to rotate or twist: one’s body, another object, or an object can be rotating itself. It can mean to change direction, as in driving or walking.
  • As a noun, it can mean a rotation or change in direction.
  • As a noun, it means an opportunity to play a game or complete a task

Tern (pronounced “tuhrn”) is a noun. It means a coastal bird that feeds mostly on fish. Typically it has a large triangular beak. It flies over the waterways, quickly dips in, and scoops up small fish.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Turner was taking a plein air class, and today’s session was at the beach.  His instructor, Mr. Tunstall, said, “We’re going to switch things up today, guys. I really like your dunescapes, Turner. Today try painting terns over the ocean. And Tina, you paint the ocean and birds well, so I’d like you to take a turn at painting a dunescape.” 

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