Waste vs. Waist – How To Distinguish These Two

13.06.24 Commonly confused words Time to read: 6min

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When writing an academic paper, it’s quite common to come across various commonly confused words. The terms “waist” and “waste” are especially prone to confusion due to their shared pronunciation. These misunderstandings can impact the caliber of your work, since academic writing requires clear and precise communication. In this article, you’ll find out how to distinguish these two, along with examples for correct usage.

Definition of “waste” vs. “waist”

Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and meanings. This describes perfectly the two easily confused words “waste” and “waist.” While “waste” can be an adjective, a noun, or a verb, its homophone pair “waist” can only be used as a noun.

Waste” has many meanings, so its definition is contextual. As a noun, it refers to useless materials or substances, or it can refer to a large, infertile area of often uninhabited land. The adjective denotes unwanted material, or land that is seemingly not used. As a verb, it can refer to using something such as an object or time carelessly, or becoming weaker.

Waist” is less versatile, only referring to the midsection of the human body or its clothing, or the narrow part of a vehicle.

Waste

… is used as an adjective, a noun, or a verb. It most commonly refers to the act of using something carelessly, something that is unwanted, or using something in an unnecessary manner.

Waist

…is a noun that specifically refers to the narrow part of your body between your ribs and your hips. It can also be used to refer to the midsection of other things, such as clothing, airplanes, or ships.

The key to differentiating between “waste” and “waist” lies in understanding the specific context and audience of your academic writing. Due to “waist” only having one specific meaning, differentiating between the two is easy. Whenever you’re talking about the midsection of something or someone, you use “waist.” Whereas, when talking about other things, such as garbage, weakness, land, you use “waste.”

Using the word “waste”

The word “waste” can be used broadly as an adjective, a noun, or a verb. How it is applied in a sentence, and what the word means, will be explained below.

“Waste” as a noun

The noun “waste” has three meanings: unused or discarded material, the act of using something carelessly, or uncultivated land.

Examples

  • The factory disposed of its waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
  • It’s a waste of money to buy things you don’t need.
  • The wilderness conservationists are working to protect the pristine wastes of the region.

“Waste” as an adjective

As an adjective, “waste” has two meanings: something unused or unwanted, or something barren or fruitless.

Examples

  • The abandoned factory was surrounded by waste ground.
  • She found a use for the waste paper by turning it into origami.
  • The landowner struggled to make use of the waste fields that were left behind.

“Waste” as a verb

The verb “waste” has four different meanings: to use something carelessly, to grow weaker, to ruin a place, or to pass away, referring to time.

Examples

  • Don’t waste your money on things you don’t need.
  • Without proper care, the plant began to waste, its leaves turning yellow and wilting.
  • The years were wasting away, marked by missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams.
  • The hasty use of chemicals would waste the fine fabric, ruining the dress beyond repair.

Note: In North America, the verb “to waste” can also be used to refer to the act of killing, or severely injuring someone.

  • After the rival gangs exchanged gunfire, one of them ended up getting wasted in the crossfire.

Tip for using “waste“ correctly

Synonyms for “waste” avoid repetition and redundancy and improve your language overall. Using them makes writing more diverse and gives a language more character.

Synonyms (nouns) Examples
Garbage The landfill was overflowing with waste.
The landfill was overflowing with garbage.
Barren The explores ventured into the waste lands of the desert.
The explorers ventured into the barren lands of the desert.

Synonyms (verbs) Examples
Spend Why waste your money on luxuries?
Why spend your money on luxuries?
Squander He wasted his talents by not pursuing his passion.
He squandered his talents by not pursuing his passion.
Ruin Leaving the food in the sun would only waste it.
Leaving the food in the sun would only ruin it.
Synonyms (adj.) Examples
Bleak The once lush forest became a waste landscape.
The once lush forest became a bleak landscape.
Excess Waste materials need to be disposed of responsibly.
Excess materials need to be disposed of responsibly.

Using the word “waist”

How “waist” is used in a sentence, along with its grammatical function, will be explained in this paragraph.

“Waist“ as a noun

“Waist” as a noun refers to the part between the ribs and hips, typically considered the narrowest part of the torso. It can also be used in the context of vehicles, when talking about the narrow midsection, or clothing.

Examples

  • She wrapped a belt around her waist to accentuate her figure.
  • Back in the day, the midships portion of a ship used to be known as the waist.
  • The narrow waist of a plane allows for better aerodynamics.

Tips for using “waist”

Including synonyms for “waist” can improve writing, prevent redundancy, and add nuance. Here are alternatives with sample sentences.

Synonyms Examples
Midriff She wore a belt around her waist to accentuate her figure.
She wore a belt around her midriff to accentuate her figure.
Midsection She felt the warmth of the sun on her waist.
She felt the warmth of the sun on her midsection.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

To improve your ability to differentiate between “waste” and “waist,” fill in the blanks in the given sentences. The correct answers can be found when you click on the second tab.

  1. He gazed out at the _____ desert landscape, feeling a sense of desolation.
  2. Some high-speed airplanes have a narrow _____ to help reduce drag at high speeds.
  3. She cinched the dress tightly at her _____ for a more flattering silhouette.
  4. The commercial airliner’s fuselage tapered at the _____, contributing to its fuel efficiency.
  5. Leaving the food out in the sun would only _____ it, as it would spoil quickly.
  6. Don’t _____ your time worrying about things you can’t change.
  7. The streamlined design of the jet featured a narrow _____ that enhanced its agility in the air.
  8. She winced as the tight corset squeezed her _____, restricting her movement.
  9. The tailor took measurements around the _____ to ensure a perfect fit for the pants.
  10. The developer plans to reclaim the _____ near the city for urban development.
  1. He gazed out at the waste desert landscape, feeling a sense of desolation.
  2. Some high-speed airplanes have a narrow waist to help reduce drag at high speeds.
  3. She cinched the dress tightly at her waist for a more flattering silhouette.
  4. The commercial airliner’s fuselage tapered at the waist, contributing to its fuel efficiency.
  5. Leaving the food out in the sun would only waste it, as it would spoil quickly.
  6. Don’t waste your time worrying about things you can’t change.
  7. The streamlined design of the jet featured a narrow waist that enhanced its agility in the air.
  8. She winced as the tight corset squeezed her waist, restricting her movement.
  9. The tailor took measurements around the waist to ensure a perfect fit for the pants.
  10. The developer plans to reclaim the waste near the city for urban development.
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FAQs

As a noun, waste refers to any material or substance that is unused, unwanted, or discarded. It can also refer to the act of using or expending something carelessly or extravagantly. Whereas the waist is a part of the body between the ribs and the hips.

“Waisted” is an adjective that describes something having a waist or a particular waist shape. It typically refers to clothing or objects that are designed to fit or accentuate the waist.

“Wasted” is an adjective that describes something that has been used or spent carelessly, resulting in loss or inefficiency. It can also refer to a person who is severely intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

“Waste time” is correct, and means “to spend time” in an unproductive or inefficient manner.