Easily Confused Words: Constraint vs. Contrast

Constraint and contrast 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.

Constraint (“kawn-stray-nnt”) is a noun. It means a rope or other binding material used to hold a living thing captive. In a figurative sense, it means a limitation or rule. This limitation can be a behavior code, a contest rule, a monetary limit, etc.

Contrast (“kawn-trasst”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb, it means to compare or discriminate in order to show differences.
  • As a noun, it means the state or act of being compared.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Konstantin was asked to compare and contrast multiple vendors’ pitches for an upcoming party’s theme. He was struggling to meet all the constraints. He wanted to make a thorough presentation while meeting the deadline. He had to balance this gargantuan task with his existing workload.

Maybe he should stop volunteering to take on so much work. 


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