Which word is right?

1. Do you affix a number or a numeral to your mailbox?

2. A counterfeit coin - is it spurious or specious?

3. Is a boring musical score repetitive or repetitious?

4. Which business plan is more detailed - a proposal or a proposition?

5. If you are just pretending to be friendly, are you using a pretext or a pretense?


1. A number. A number refers to the result of a count and also to a particular ordering system, like a Social Security number or a license number. A numeral is one or more conventional symbols representing a number - Roman or Arabic numerals, for example. The mailbox affixture is the result of an ordering system by house, and is therefore considered a 'number.'

2. It's spurious, meaning forged or a sham. 'Spurious' often describes things like bogus coins, paintings, or documents. 'Specious' means 'appearing good and right, but without real merit.' You may have a specious excuse to leave work if your claim seems plausible but is, in fact, unjustified.

3. If it's boring and tiresome, it's 'repetitious.' 'Repetitive' means the score is characterized by repeated action, but there is no criticism attached to it.

4. Both mean 'a plan offered.' A 'proposal' is less formal and may be no more than a suggestion. A 'proposition' is where terms are precisely stated and advantages are spelled out.

5. A pretense, meaning a false appearance or show. Someone pretentious is making false claims of excellence or importance or, in this case, cordiality. A 'pretext' is a false excuse meant to mislead or conceal. For example, a student may not go to school on the pretext of being too tired.

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

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.