Grammar Guy, I presume

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Have you ever been confused about something, but you didn’t want to look dumb asking about it?

For instance, you might think Cappuccino drinks are made from ground up Capuchin monkeys, even though that sounds pretty cruel. Without questioning the coffee industry, you just go along with it, until one day your girlfriend orders a Cappuccino during a date. Suddenly you shout at the top of your lungs, “How could you do that to the monkeys?!” in the middle of your local coffeehouse.

The words “presume” and “assume” are kind of like that. They’re kind of similar, so let’s just use them interchangeably. Wrong. I think to understand the difference between the two words, we need to understand what “-sume” means. Get your togas on, because it’s time for a Latin lesson, folks!

According to The Latin Dictionary, “sumere” means “to put on or take up.” Google’s Latin to English translator sums it up in one word: take.

You already know that the prefix “pre” means “before.” So, when we presume something, we have “put on” what we think about something based on prior or previous knowledge or evidence. Presuming is when we suppose something based on a decent probability that it’s true. For instance, when I walked into my lecture hall class, I presumed the woman in the pantsuit at the lectern was my professor.

The prefix “as” shows up as a variant of the prefix “ad” when the next letter in the word is an “s.” Trust me; I looked that up in the dictionary. The prefix “as” means “assert.” So “assume” is when we “assertively” “take” on an opinion about something without any evidence or prior knowledge. Assuming almost always gets us in trouble.

Both presume and assume have to do with “supposing” something. The difference is, presume is supposing something about which you already know at least a little bit. Think of “presume” as an educated guess and “assume” as an asinine guess.

To avoid looking asinine, get the facts on words like presume and assume before you use them in casual conversation. While you’re at it, school yourself on common coffee terms; you’d hate to assume your significant other is a ground-up monkey drinking psychopath.

Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.

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