• 2-minute read
  • 23rd July 2015

Word Choice: Desert vs. Dessert

In a better organised language we wouldn’t have words spelled almost identically but differing entirely in meaning. It makes it far too easy to make spelling errors, especially when typing at speed.

What sense does it make, for example, for the words ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’ to be separated by only an ‘s’? One misplaced finger on a keyboard and suddenly you’re writing about something hot and dry rather than sweet and delicious!

This is why it’s important to check your work (or have it checked) before handing in. But since this kind of confusion is inevitable sometimes, here’s a brief overview of how ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’ should be used.

Getting Lost in the Desert

The word ‘desert’ has three meanings in English, but only two are common these days. The first is as a noun referring to a barren or desolate area, usually with very little rainfall (and often hot and sandy, though even very cold places can be ‘deserts’ if they’re dry):

Lost in the desert, Jack quickly grew desperate with thirst.

The verb ‘desert’, meanwhile, means to abandon something:

The guards deserted their post, so nobody to saw the enemy army approach.

As a noun ‘desert’ can also mean ‘something that is merited or deserved’. The only place you’re likely to hear this, however, is in the phrase ‘just deserts’, which usually refers to a punishment or reward:

The guards who abandoned their post soon received their just deserts.

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Enjoying Your Dessert

When spelled with a double ‘s’, a ‘dessert’ is the sweet course served at the end of a meal:

Despite being full after the main course, Jarrod decided he could probably manage an ice-cream dessert.

People often misspell the phrase ‘just deserts’ as ‘just desserts’, perhaps because it’s a pun sometimes used by restaurants on menus!

Desert or Dessert?

Since ‘dessert’ has only one definition, it should be easy to tell these terms apart:

Dessert = Food/sweet

Desert = Dry/desolate/abandoned

As mentioned, however, even if you’ve mastered how these words are used, it’s still easy to overlook a typo. Worry not though, as Proofread My Essay’s professional proofreaders are trained to spot this type of error! Try sending in a 500-word free sample today.

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