Grammar Wednesday

Another confused words edition. I’m not sure how “commonly” these are confused, but they are enough so to warrant attention, so I guess it’s commonly enough, now, isn’t it?

Both of these come from Kizz who, along with California Teacher Guy, is Grammar Wednesday’s greatest supporter. She left comments last week asking me to explain the difference between two sets of words that she sees misused all the time on the internets. I can’t vouch for the fact that the people who are writing these things she’s reading are going to see this little article and learn from it, but we can always hope, right?

First, the difference between wreak and wreck. I’ve covered this before (at Kizz’s request, even), but it bears repeating. Wreck and wreak are both verbs (well, wreck can also be a noun, but for our purposes today, we’re only concerned with its use as a verb), but they mean very different things.

Wreck (pronounced like heck) is used with a direct object and it means to cause ruin or destruction:

The baby with the permanent marker wrecked the living room couch.

She wrecked the car but came out of the accident with just a sprained wrist.

Wreak (pronounced like reek) means to inflict, execute, or carry out, and I hear it most often with the word havoc (which means destruction or devastation):

The birthday party of 9-year-old boys wreaked havoc on the back garden.

She wreaked her frustration on her innocent office mate.

The other words Kizz wanted clarified are throws and throes, and the grammar snob in me chuckles to think that people are screwing this one up (though my students misuse threw and through all the time).

Thows is a form of the verb to throw and means to propel, usually by a motion of the arm or hand:

He throws a mean curve ball.

If she throws another report on my desk, I’m going to quit!

A throe is a spasm, pang, or paroxysm (I love that word); really, a sharp feeling of emotion. I usually see throes used with the idea of passion as concerns the sex act, but it can be used in a lot of different situations:

“I love you,” she breathed lustily in the throes of desire for the glistening man before her.

I’m in the throes of worry over moving cross-country.

Get it?

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!



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6 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. You know I never went this far with it before but if you talk about wrecking havoc it’s either redundant or they cancel each other out! If you WRECK havoc you’re destroying it, so what? You make it all orderly and easy to handle? Sweet.

    Death throes. I always think of the passion ones and the death ones. Eh, 6 of one…


  2. “wreck” and “wreak” have been confused since the 50s. One of the reasons for this is probably because “wreak” has two pronunciations, one of which is identical to “wreck”.

  3. Val

    I’ve never had a problem using wreak and wreck, but you said “Wreak (pronounced like week).” Down here in Tejas, I’ve only ever heard it said “wreek.” Any ideas?? My pronunciation hangs in the balance!!

  4. Val, you’re absolutely right. I’ve gone to fix the entry – it’s more like “reek” than “week.” I was going more for the vowel sounds than the consonants; I should have been more specific…

  5. In fact it’s pronounced exactly like “reek”, but it can also be pronounced exactly like “wreck”.

  6. These throes of passion in this linguistic debate are wreaking havoc on my grammatical understanding, wrecking my pronunciation comprehension, and throwing my grammar, which already reeked, into a tale spin.

    Ok, it’s not that big of a deal, but it was a fun sentence to create. 🙂

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