March 5, 2009

Weekly Language Usage Tips: adverse, averse and allude, elude, and refer

Posted in adverse or averse, allude, and refer, elude at 7:32 am by dlseltzer

First Words:

Bryna had something to say about last week’s rant about how the web enables the quick and dirty creation of new words with no review or adjudication:

But, just to reassure, the English language is still a living language, not a dead one; and it’s supposed to change. New words come and old ones disappear, or practically disappear when the meaning is so fundamentally changed we don’t recognize it for the original one. And even without the series of tubes we have come to know as the internets, language changes faster than we do. So, yes I listened to the npr story about student debating teams in DC preparing for a match around the topic of the “No Child Left Behind” program and cringed at the language of debaters (childrens….really?). But then I remembered that people is plural for person, and peoples is plural for people (groups of people), so maybe there are childrens who learn in different ways (groups of children that is), or maybe I’m just showing my age and classism. After all, I do order mouses for the multiple computers in my office, and deliverables sounds completely normal to me (but brand is a noun and as a verb to me still involves a hot metal poker, and I feel it every time I have to sit in a meeting about re-branding).

All that said, I love to watch language change, and that involves noticing when and how it does, and remembering why it didn’t used to be that way. So please, please, keep these emails up….they make me happy, but don’t be so sad about the change, it’s what keeps English alive.

Sightings 1:

Beth reports:

I was listening to a discussion on an NPR show of why college costs have been rising so steeply at private colleges and one of the individuals being interviewed blamed it on “the resortification of college campuses.”

Ouch. It hurts just reading this.

Today’s tips are about words that are confusing and get mixed up.

Tip 1: Averse or adverse

While the words are similar, their meanings and usage are distinct. Averse refers to people and means having a feeling of distaste, dislike or opposition .

The politician was averse to photographers following him to his hotel room.
(The politician didn’t like photographers following him to his hotel room.)

After losing so much money in the stock market, I found myself to have become risk-averse.
(After losing so much money in the stock market, I found myself opposed to taking risks.)

Adverse, on the other hand, means negative, unfavorable, or contrary and is almost always used with things – not people.

The adverse publicity made the politician decide not to run for office.
(The negative publicity made the politician decide not to run for office.)

I decided not to re-invest due to the adverse conditions of the market,
(I decided not to re-invest due to the unfavorable conditions of the market.)

The two words are often confused. I suspect it is because they are similar in spelling – only a d separating them – and they both have a negative connotation and imply some kind of opposition. So, how to differentiate them? I can’t think of any good tricks (if you have any, please let me know), but if you remember that adverse refers to things and averse refers to people, you should be okay.

Tip 2: Allude, elude, or refer

Let’s address allude and elude first. The words sound very similar and, as a result, are often used interchangeably. This is wrong. Their meanings are very different. Allude means to refer to someone or something indirectly, with no specific identifying information.

When she mentioned fond memories of the Caribbean, he knew she was alluding to the time they met.

He alluded to the football team when he mentioned the University’s sports champions.

Elude means to escape or to avoid or to fail to understand.

The meaning of that comment eludes me, and I don’t know why everyone is laughing.

She eluded capture by climbing the wall and jumping off the other side.

They can, however, be used together.

The name of the author to whom you are alluding, eludes me.

Now to allude and refer.

These words are often mistakenly used interchangeably, also. But again, such usage is wrong. As noted previously, allude means to refer to something or someone indirectly.

During the meeting he alluded to the proposed law but refused to mention it by name.

Refer means to make reference to or to make mention of someone or something directly.

I refer to one of the greatest cookbook authors of modern times, Sheila Lukins.

And again, if appropriate, they can be used together.

When I alluded to my best friend just now, you know, of course, that I was referring to you.

These are three words that you should know how to distinguish when writing.



  1. I like “sounds like” comparisons to help me remember things. Adverse is an adjective, it describes a thing. Both aDverse and aDjective have a “D”. Averse does not have the “d” and describes a feeling, which is intangible. Poet’s verses are often about feelings. (A verse or) Averse is about feelings.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Great way of remembering!

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