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To do something perfunctorily is to do it because you have to, as a formality, often in a careless way.

A perfunctory action is a formality: you do it because you have to, but you might not care if you do a good job. Similarly, to do something perfunctorily is to get it done without giving it much attention. A referee who does his job perfunctorily probably misses many calls. A teacher who teaches perfunctorily may grade student papers without reading them. A politician may shake hands perfunctorily, since he has to do it so often.

Choose your words

Caught between words? Learn how to make the right choice.

exercise/ exorcise

While both words can refer to ways to get rid of something — belly fat, Satan — that's where the similarities end. Exercise is physical activity but to exorcise is to cast out evil.

disillusion/ dissolution

To disillusion someone is to rid her of an illusion, like lifting up the curtain to show that the wizard is just a man. Dissolution, on the other hand, is when everything falls apart. Both are disappointing.

sac/ sack

Both are containers, but a sac is for plants and animals, and a sack is for a sandwich. So spiders put their eggs in a sac, and people put their groceries in a sack.

incredible/ incredulous

Incredible describes something you can’t believe because it’s so right, like an incredible double rainbow. Incredulous describes how you feel when you can’t believe something because it’s so wrong, like when someone tells you leprechauns left two pots of gold. read more...

elusive/ illusive

An elusive fairy is one you can't catch, but an illusive one was never really there at all. It was just an illusion! read more...

pore/ pour

A pore is small opening in a surface that lets stuff through. To pour, on the other hand, means to flow continuously and rapidly. read more...

See all Choose Your Words articles »
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