Easily Confused Words: Taut vs. Taught

Taut and taught 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.

Taut (pronounced “tawt”) is an adjective. It means to pull a rope, a string, or similar object to the utmost tightness. The odds of the rope breaking are very high when pulled to its tension limits.

Taught (pronounced “tawt”) is the past tense of the verb “teach.” It would be used to talk about teaching you did, or who instructed you as a student in the past.

For example:

  • In elementary school, I was taught a core curriculum including reading, addition, subtraction, and physical science.
  • Over the summer, you were taught French.
  • In preschool, they were taught to tie their shoes.
  • I taught middle school students about science.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Travis felt out of his element. Usually he taught math. Today he was coach and referee for a spring field day at his school. Specifically, he supervising a tug of war between third and fourth graders. The kids had pulled the rope taut. It was a stalemate: the scarf tied at the center of the rope wasn’t budging over the required line to enable a winning team. Then someone across the field yelled “Ice cream!”

The fourth graders let go. The third graders fell backwards like dominoes. They had won by default.

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