Which Word Wednesday: Conscience vs. Conscious

By May 23, 2012 language No Comments

Words that sound alike are easy to mix up, especially when you are speaking quickly or you are under pressure. Our brains grab for one word but spit out its second-cousin-once-removed—the words are related, but do not have the same meaning.

Today’s Which Word Wednesday features one such word pair, conscience and conscious. My friend Angel offered this up as a WWW recommendation—and it’s a good one! Let’s start with definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

conscience :: noun
an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior

conscious :: adjective
aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake

One noun, one adjective. One identifies our inner voice for how to live, the other describes a person who is living.

But how can we keep them straight?

The word conscience has two hooks within in that may be of help. First, it contains the word science, relating to knowledge: the knowing of right and wrong. Second, it contains the letter N, which could remind you of your INNER voice telling you right from wrong.

The word conscious had a memory hook too. The ending sound ous sounds like us. A person who is alert, aware, alive is with us, or conscious.

This is a simple family tree that illustrates ...

This is a simple family tree that illustrates the definitions of various types of cousins (e.g. “second cousin twice removed”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s my WWW verdict? When you need to use one of these words, start voicing the front part consci, as you determine which word you really need. If you need the inner voice, finish off the sound with ence; if not, finish with ous.

What’s your verdict? Do you get tongue tied around conscience and conscious? How do you keep them straight? Does anyone really know what second-cousin-once-removed means? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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