Easy English mix-ups: dessert and desert

‘Dessert’ and ‘desert’ are two words that are spelled differently, pronounced differently, but are very easily confused. So let’s look at each of these words separately and then we can discuss tips on how to remember which word is which.

Dessert (Noun)

A ‘dessert’ is a sweet (or sometimes savory) food that is usually served after a main course. It could be a cake, pudding, sweets, cheese and biscuits or fruit. The pronunciation is /diˈzərt/

Desert (noun)

Another noun, this one is used to describe an area where there is a lot of sand or stony rubble, no water and little vegetation. It is a very dry area and very few animals can survive and are adapted to survive in a desert. The most famous example is the ‘Sahara Desert.’ The pronunciation of this noun is a little different: /dezərt/.

Desert (Verb)

When someone talks about ‘being deserted’ they are referring to being left alone by other people. A synonym is ‘to abandon.’ It can also mean to forsake one’s duty or post, especially to be absent without leave from the armed forces with no intention of returning. The pronunciation is /dəˈzərt/.

Notice the main difference in spelling with these words is the number of ‘s’ in the middle. An easy way to remember is: if the word you are talking about is ‘sweet or savory’ then it will have two ‘s’s in the middle. Likewise, you can remember that the ‘desert’ is so dry that only one ‘s’ can grow there.

Another easy way to remember the difference is to associate certain words with each. For example, ‘Strawberry shortcake’ is a ‘dessert’. Notice to two ‘s’s. The ‘Sahara Desert’ is a ‘desert.’ Notice the single ‘s.’

One famous dessert from the USA is apple pie. What is a famous dessert from your country?