Desert vs. Dessert – How To Distinguish Them

30.05.24 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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To create a better flow, varying in word choice is crucial. However, you should focus on the correct definitions of the terms for a better understanding and credibility in your work. The words “desert” and “dessert” count as one of the most commonly confused words due to similarities in spelling and pronunciation. In the following article, the correct meaning and usage of both words will be elaborated.

Definition of “desert” vs. “dessert”

Regardless of their similarities in spelling and phonetics, both words hold very different meanings. The word “desert” functions as a noun and refers to an arid, typically sandy, and desolate area that is usually uninhabited. In some cases, it can also mean punishment or reward. “Desert” can also be used as a compound adjective meaning unoccupied, desolate, or forsaken. It can further be used as a verb, referring to the act of withdrawing from something or someone, intending to not return.

However, the word “dessert” can only be used as a noun and holds the meaning of a sweet dish, typically delivered after the main course, such as cakes or fruits.

Desert

… acts as a noun, compound adjective, and verb, meaning “desolate area,” “unoccupied,” or “to abandon.”

Dessert

… acts only as a noun and refers to a sweet dish served after the main course, such as cakes or fruits.

The key to differentiating both words is to focus on what the words refer to and their correct pronunciation. In the word “desert” the stress is on the first syllable, whereas the stress in “dessert” is on the last syllable. There are two helpful mnemonics to remember the correct meaning of the words.

  • When you think of the word “desert” you can think of a “sandy place,” remembering that there is only one “s” like in the correct spelling of the word.
  • When you think of the word “dessert,” however, you can think of “sweet stuff,” remembering that the letter “s” occurs two times.

Using the word “desert”

The word “desert” can be used as a noun, adjective, and verb as outlined in the following.

“Desert” as a noun

“Desert” as a noun refers to a dry, desolate, and arid area that is not inhabited by human beings. It might also describe a deserved punishment or reward, usually used in the plural form.

Examples

  • The Algerian desert is a global tourist attraction.
  • There are some poisonous species living in the desert.
  • The illegal soldiers received their deserved deserts.

“Desert” as a compound adjective

“Desert” can function as a compound adjective, meaning “unoccupied,” “desolate,” or “forsaken.” A compound adjective is a combination of two or more words that, in compound, create a new meaning and act as an adjective, modifying a noun. A hyphen often links compound adjectives to avoid confusion. However, there are also non-hyphenated compound adjectives.

Examples

  • The documentary showed the remarkable adaptions of desert-dwelling creatures.
  • Their journey through the desert-like landscape was challenging.
  • The desert-bound expedition faced numerous obstacles like sandstorms.

“Desert” as a verb

“Desert” can be used as a verb meaning “to abandon” or “to leave, intending not to return.”

Examples

  • The player decided to desert the team finitely.
  • The girl said that she almost deserted her hope of being rescued.
  • In times of war, some tribes had to desert their homelands.

Tip for using “desert” correctly

A helpful tip to use “desert” correctly is to remember that it is related to a dry area that is usually uninhabited. If you want to eliminate the risk of mistaking the word, you can use synonyms such as “barren,” “punishment,” “wasteland,” or “wilderness” when used as a noun, “arid,” “dry,” “droughty,” or “waterless” when used as an adjective or “to abandon,” “to forsake,” “to leave,” or “to withdraw from” when used a verb.

Noun

Synonyms Examples
Barren A desert is an area without vegetation.
A barren is an area without vegetation.
Punishment Unlawful behavior may result in desert.
Unlawful behavior may result in punishments.
Wilderness Some scorpions can be found in the desert.
Some scorpions can be found in the wilderness.
Wasteland After the war, the city resembled a desert.
After the war, the city resembled a wasteland.

Adjective

Synonyms Examples
Arid Abu Dhabi has numerous desert areas.
Abu Dhabi has numerous arid areas.
Droughty The farmers struggled to grow vegetables in the desert climate.
The farmers struggled to grow vegetables in the droughty climate.
Dry The desert conditions in Africa make it a hotspot for reptiles.
The dry conditions in Africa make it a hotspot for reptiles.
Waterless Fruits cannot grow on desert fields.
Fruits cannot grow on waterless fields.

Verb

Synonyms Examples
To abandon The family had to desert their old home.
The family had to abandon their old home.
To forsake The girl felt deserted by her family.
The girl felt forsaken by her family.
To leave They deserted the old town due to war.
They left the old town due to war.
To withdraw from The army decided to desert the battlefield.
The army decided to withdraw from the battlefield.

Using the word “dessert”

The word “dessert” can only be used as a noun, as described in the following.

“Dessert” as a noun

“Dessert” as a noun refers to a sweet dish such as a cake or fruit, typically served after the main course.

Examples

  • Tiramisu is an Italian dessert with alcohol.
  • Apples and bananas are considered as healthy desserts.
  • Chocolate cake is the most preferred dessert on birthdays.

Tip for using “dessert” correctly

Remembering that the word “dessert” refers to “sweet stuff,” may help you to differentiate it from the similar-sounding word “desert,” as you can associate it with the double occurrence of the letter “s.” You can always use synonyms to minimize the risk of using the wrong word, like a commonly confused word. Some applicable synonyms for the word “dessert” are “candy,” “dainty,” “sweet,” or “treat.”

Synonyms Examples
Candy Children are always happy when there is dessert.
Children are always happy when there is candy.
Dainty Pastries and sandwiches are considered desserts.
Pastries and sandwiches are considered dainties.
Sweet Apple pie is a delicious dessert.
Apple pie is a delicious sweet.
Treat Christmas dinners are known for their delicious desserts.
Christmas dinners are known for their delicious treats.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Test your understanding of the distinction between “desert” and “dessert” with the following test. Fill out the blank spaces in the following 10 sentences and check your answers in the second tab.

  1. A _____ is an arid and dry landscape.
  2. Chocolate cake is a delicious _____.
  3. Pastries are considered as French _____.
  4. A good _____ is essential for a multi-course dinner.
  5. The soldiers decided to _____ the battlefield and get to safety.
  6. The illegal refugees received serious _____.
  7. Poisonous snakes can be found in the _____.
  8. The team prepared their vehicles for _____ ready conditions.
  9. After the destruction, the city resembled a _____
  10. A banana is considered a healthy _____.
  1. A desert is an arid and dry landscape.
  2. Chocolate cake is a delicious dessert.
  3. Pastries are considered as French desserts.
  4. A good dessert is essential for a multi-course dinner.
  5. The soldiers decided to desert the battlefield and get to safety.
  6. The illegal refugees received serious deserts.
  7. Poisonous snakes can be found in the desert.
  8. The team prepared their vehicles for desert-ready conditions.
  9. After the destruction, the city resembled a desert.
  10. A banana is considered a healthy dessert.
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FAQs

A muffin is considered a sweet dish. Therefore, it is a form of “dessert.” A “desert” is an arid and sandy area and has no connection to sweets.

Due to the sandy and arid environment of the Sahara and the lack of vegetation, it is considered a desert. Another famous desert is Namib, which is the oldest desert in the world.

Yes. The word “dessert” is used in both variants. In British English, however, the word “pudding” is also used to describe a sweet dish after the main course. If indeed a pudding is served as dessert, British people usually specify the kind of pudding that is served.

Example:

  • Who wants some dessert? (AE)
  • Who wants some pudding? (BE)