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mandatory

In the US, attending school through the twelfth grade, driving on the right side of the road, and obtaining a social security number are all mandatory. The phrase "mandatory requirement" is redundant.

A mandatory action is something that is required, obligatory, or compulsory. Like letting your Great Aunt Edna pinch your cheeks or passing gym to get your diploma. Mandatory is often used in opposition to optional. If you want to compete with the swim team at school, weeknight practices are mandatory, meaning you have to go, though the Saturday dawn swim practice remains optional, meaning it's up to you.

Choose your words

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

rebut/ refute

To rebut is to try to prove something isn’t true, but to refute is to actually prove it isn’t. Getting them mixed up won’t get you kicked out of the debate club, but it’s worth knowing the difference.
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empathy/ sympathy

Empathy is heartbreaking — you experience other people’s pain and joy. Sympathy is easier because you just have to feel sorry for someone. Send a sympathy card if someone’s cat died; feel empathy if your cat died, too.
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disinterested/ uninterested

If you’re disinterested, you’re unbiased; you’re out of the loop. But if you’re uninterested, you don’t give a hoot; you’re bored. These two words have been duking it out, but the battle may be over for uninterested. Heavyweight disinterested has featherweight uninterested on the ropes.
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epigram/ epigraph

An epigram is a little poem or clever statement, but an epigraph is a specific kind of epigram: a witty statement that's inscribed somewhere, such as on a building or at the beginning of a chapter or book. read more...

moral/ morale

A moral is the lesson of a story. Add an "e" and you have morale: the spirit of a group that makes everyone want to pitch in and do better. read more...

simple/ simplistic

Simple isn't the same as simplistic. Being simplistic means trying to explain something complicated as being simpler than it is; that is, oversimplifying. read more...

See all Choose Your Words articles »
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