Easily Confused Words: Decisive vs. Divisive

Decisive and divisive 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.

Decisive (pronounced “dih-sigh-sihv”) is an adjective. It describes someone who can quickly make choices and move forward without doubt or deliberating.

For example:  I have a hard time being decisive with a restaurant menu. Everything looks so good!

Divisive (pronounced “dihv-eye-sihv”) is an adjective. It describes someone or something that is trying to create separations or rivalries among groups of people. Perhaps this division is intentional, like an individual that uses speech to claim one group is the “enemy.” Perhaps this division is unintentional, an individual takes a stance and others respond by agreeing with the stance, while others oppose, complain, or boycott that individuals efforts in retaliation.

Being divisive can be a lot like being polarizing, but polarizing means dividing into two extremes. Being divisive can lead to many more groups or factions. In being divisive, the goal is discord in general.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Devann had thought the key to winning the class election was to be decisive and come across as a man with a plan. It should have been an easy win. Devann was relatively well-known and well-liked.

But Declan, editor of the school paper, was making it a difficult campaign. He asked very hard questions at the debates. He wrote critical pieces about what needed to happen at the school, yet didn’t run himself. Devann felt he was being divisive, and it was motivated by his interest in Devann’s opponent, Devi.


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