leech vs. leach

What is the difference between leech and leach?

The word leech is relatively common in English. Most literally, it is a noun referring to an aquatic bloodsucking worm or a verb referring to the practice of draining the blood with a leech. It is also used figuratively as a noun to refer to someone who preys or depends on another person in the manner of a leech or other parasite, or as a verb to describe the actions of such a person. For example:
  • “We were horrified to discover leeches all over our body coming out of the swamp.”
  • “The doctor leeched the snakebite in an attempt to draw out the venom from the boy.”
  • “When will you realize that your brother is just a leech? He’s been living with us for years now and has barely contributed more than buying groceries once in a while.”
  • “Mary, you’ve been leeching off our money and goodwill for far too long now.”
The less common leach (pronounced the same way as leech: /litʃ/) is most often a verb meaning “to dissolve or otherwise remove from a substance through the action of a percolating liquid,” as in:
  • “The lead in the old pipes began leaching into the town’s drinking water.”
  • “The tainted water seeped into the soil, leaching it of minerals and nutrients needed to sustain plant life.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Because leach is encountered much less often in everyday speech and writing, it’s a common mistake to use leech in its place (especially because the notion of a substance being eroded or dissolved from something sounds kind of like the figurative meaning of leech.)
It can help to associate leach with bleach, which refers to removing the color from something.
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