Pesky Words (Homophones) – Aid vs. Aide

Welcome to another Pesky Words. In this post I am looking at aid and aide. These two words can cause confusion and result in you spending too much time thinking over which is the correct one to use.

So, the Oxford Dictionary defines aid like this:


Aid1 n.1 help or support. 2 material help given to a place in need. 3 historical a grant of subsidy or tax to a king. v. help in the achievement of something.


And aide like this:

Aide1 n. an assistant to a political leader.



More often than not we use the word aid in our writing to refer to assistance or support being given. Aid differs from aide in that it does not refer to a person but rather an act or an object:


‘A man fell over and I went to his aid.’


‘Aid supplies have now reached Africa.’


The great thing about proofreading and writing these posts is that it makes me consult my dictionary and as a result I learn new things. I did not know about the third definition! Again, this meaning of aid relates to an object.

The meaning of aide is easy to remember as it only has one definition. It is purely a noun and always refers to a person. So, for example, we would use aide rather than aid in the following sentence:


‘The Prime Minister’s aide always provides sound advice.’


I think it is fair to say that aide does not always have to relate solely to those who assist political leaders. It can also be used to refer to others who are in a helping role. The OED offers this as one of its example sentences:


‘Mrs Smith is caring for her husband with some assistance from home care aides.’1


The main difference between the two words is the person. People are the sole concern of one and not at all in the other. The way I remember the difference between aid and aide is by focusing on the ‘e’. In my mind the ‘e’ stands for ‘everybody’ which relates to people. Aide is therefore the correct word if it refers specifically to a man or woman in your sentence.

I hope this helps you a little. Happy writing!

1Stevenson, A. and Waite, M. 2011, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1911

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