Many words in the English language are easily confused because they’re similar in sound or meaning. We’ve examined many commonly confused words in the past (for numerous examples, scroll down to the “Commonly Confused Words” heading in this Grammar Roundup post). The words we’ll look at today, while not as commonly used, are a set of terms that appear in context in our latest Famous Things lesson on The Supreme Court (US). Let’s take a closer look at how these two words differ in usage.
In a nutshell, confirm is fairly common and means to validate the truth about something (e.g., She confirmed the gossip when she announced she was pregnant). Affirm is much less common and means to say something with a strong conviction (e.g., During her speech, she affirmed her commitment to making the school more environmentally friendly).
Type: The verb confirm is transitive (meaning it takes a direct object).
Meaning: The most common meaning of confirm is “to give approval or validity to something.” It is used for both positive and negative situations.
Synonyms: authenticate, corroborate, substantiate, validate, verify
- The attack confirmed her worst fears about the neighborhood. (Merriam-Webster)
- The truth was reluctantly confirmed by the Pentagon after news reports corroborated the evidence. (Oxford)
Use in Law: Unlike affirm, confirm isn’t used that often in law. In legal contexts, confirm means “to give approval to, to ratify” (Merriam-Webster). The following is an example from CNN Politics:
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, and almost immediately the US Senate was launched into the national spotlight as it’s the legislative body that will formally confirm whoever the next justice will be.
Type: The verb affirm can be transitive (meaning it takes a direct object) or intransitive (meaning it doesn’t take a direct object).
Meaning: The most common meaning of affirm is “to assert or state positively.” It is usually used for positive situations.
Synonyms: assert, avow, declare, protest
- They neither affirmed nor denied their guilt. (Merriam-Webster)
- That means any two people who are not already married can publicly and formally affirm their commitment to each other. (Oxford)
Use in Law: Affirm is frequently used in legal contexts. As a transitive verb, affirm means “to assert (something, such as a judgment or decree) as valid or confirmed” (Merriam-Webster). As an intransitive verb, it means “to testify or declare by affirmation as distinguished from swearing an oath” or “to uphold a judgment or decree of a lower court” (Merriam-Webster). The following example is from UBC Legal Citation Guide:
Further, you will want to let the reader know if the Court of Appeal decision is affirming/reversing the earlier decision and whether the Court of Appeal decision was affirmed/reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The noun confirmation describes the act of confirming something (e.g., The doctor’s note provided the teacher with the required confirmation). It can also be used for a religious ceremony (where practitioners receive full church membership).
In law, it means “the ratification of an executive act by a legislative body” (e.g., the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee), as defined by Merriam-Webster.
The meaning of the noun affirmation that is most commonly used is that of a positive message or daily mantra. An example of an affirmation from this article, called 35 Affirmations That Will Change Your Life (Huffington Post), is: “I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.” Affirmation can also mean the act of affirming something.
In law, it means “a formal declaration by a person who declines to take an oath,” according to Oxford.
- The Supreme Court (lesson)
- Grammar Day Roundup 2018 (blog post)
- 6 Commonly Confused Word Pairs (blog post)
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