exercise vs. exorcise

What is the difference between exercise and exorcise?

The words exercise and exorcise are very similar in pronunciation, but they have very different meanings. Exercise, pronounced /ˈɛksərˌsaɪz/, most often refers to activity that promotes bodily or mental health or personal development and improvement, either as noun or a verb. It also has a wide range of other meanings that stem from this core definition. For example:
  • “I’ve started biking to work to get a little more exercise.”
  • “I usually end my class with a few exercises to let students apply what they’ve learned.”
  • “I need to exercise my legs a bit more.”
  • “This game will really exercise your brain!”
Exorcise, on the other hand, has a very narrow and specific definition: “to expel evil spirits or other malignant forces by religious ceremonies” or “to free a person or place from such evil elements.” It can also be used figuratively. For example:
  • “In the movie, they bring in a priest to exorcise a demon from the possessed girl.”
  • “These therapy sessions have really helped me exorcise some of my demons.”
When spoken carefully, exorcise is pronounced /ˈɛksɔrˌsaɪz/. However, in quick, casual speech, the O in the middle of the word tends to have its stress reduced, resulting in a schwa sound that is identical to the pronunciation of exercise/ˈɛksərˌsaɪz/. Because of this, the mistake is sometimes made to use exercise in place of exorcise, or vice versa.

Spelling Tricks and Tips

As a quick mnemonic trick, just remember that exorcise often relates to demons, both of which contain an O.
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