Just the right word

How good is your vocabulary? See if you can choose the right word in each of the questions below.

1. If you are looking forward to Thanksgiving, are you eager or anxious?

2. Will your family be all together or altogether for the holidays?

3. Which implies boldness - to assume or to presume?

4. If you and a friend have common interests, are they therefore mutual?

5. Is it presumptuous or presumptive to invite yourself to someone's home?


(1) Eager. Eagerness suggests earnest longing or ardent desire. Almost always, eagerness is a positive and enthusiastic feeling. "Anxious" implies worry or uneasiness, which would not likely be the case when you anticipate a holiday, a time of rest and relaxation.

(2) All together, meaning everyone in a group as in "all together, let's sing!" "Altogether" means wholly, completely, or thoroughly, as in "an altogether confusing report" or "the house was altogether destroyed by the fire."

(3) To "presume" is more bold and borders on arrogance. To "assume" means to come to a conclusion on what is known or felt to be true. It takes for granted without having proof. For example, a parent might say to a child, "It's so quiet in your room, I assume that you are studying." On the other hand, to presume implies unwarranted interference and liberties. You may assume that your daughter is going to a party, but you presume to tell her how to conduct herself.

(4) No. "Mutual" suggests reciprocity, as in a mutual agreement or affection between two people. If they respect each other, they have mutual respect. If two nations benefit from each other in trade, they mutually benefit.

"Common," however, means "belonging equally to." A common interest or property may be something that two people share, but it has nothing to do with reciprocity.

(5) You'd be presumptuous to invite yourself to someone's home. The word implies a bold and unwarranted permission bordering on the audacious.

Presumptive is more mild. It is reserved for those cases in which one believes or presumes that something is true. One may take one's inheritance for granted, for example, and presumptively move money from one account to another before an estate is duly settled.

SOURCES: Merriam-Webster's Compact Dictionary of Synonyms; The Random House Dictionary; The World Book Dictionary; The Dictionary of Confusable Words, by Laurence Urdang.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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