Easily Confused Words: Complicate vs. Complicit

Complicate and complicit 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.

Complicate (pronounced “cawm-plih-kate”) has multiple forms.

  • As a verb, it means to make things complex, intricate, or not easy to understand or sort out.
  • As an adjective, it describes something complex or intricate. In entomology, it describes multi-folding wings of insects.

Complicit (pronounced “cuhm-pliss-itt”) is an adjective. It describes someone who is guilty of being an accessory to someone else’s criminal or immoral activity. Maybe they were involved in it, or covering it up, or maybe they are guilty because they refuse to blow the whistle on wrongdoing or corruption that they are aware of.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Comgan was tasked with handling a case of a difficult divorce situation. What made complicated things is that the husband wanted to marry her former best friend, who was now 6 months pregnant. The soon to be ex-wife was also expecting, and there was mystery about who the father was. Was it the husband, or was it a work colleague, was it an old boyfriend from years past? And were any additional friends complicit in either partners’ deceit of one another? Who strayed first?

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