Word Confusion: Berth versus Birth

Posted July 8, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Got reminded of this word confusion while reading a newly released action suspense story. I have to say, I was really impressed that a male dog could give birth let alone a wide one, that or maybe it was a cheap way to produce another ship…hmmm…

On the One Hand… …and On the Other Hand
It was a live berth.

An available place to park your boat or to sleep.

It was a live birth.

The baby was born alive.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Berth Birth
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster

“Gelendzhik Berth with Pleasure Craft” courtesy of Commons, Wikipedia

“Parents with Newborn Baby” courtesy of The Guardian

Independent midwives – and home births – are under threat

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: berths
Past tense or past participle: berthed
Gerund or present participle: berthing



Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: births
Past tense or past participle: birthed

Ship’s allotted place at a wharf or dock

Space for an automotive vehicle at rest

[Informal (often in a sports context)] Situation or position in an organization or event

Sufficient distance for maneuvering a ship

An amount of distance maintained for safety

Fixed bed or bunk on a ship, train, or other means of transport

Verb, intransitive:
[Of a ship] Dock

Verb, transitive:
Moor a ship in its allotted place

[Of a passenger ship] Provide a sleeping place for someone


See also the definition for noun below

Emergence of a baby or other young from the body of its mother

The start of life as a physically separate being

[When used with an adjective] A baby born *

Beginning or coming into existence of something

Origin, descent, or ancestry

High or noble descent

[Archaic] One that is born

Verb, intransitive:
[Informal] Give birth to a baby or other young

Verb, transitive:
[Dialect] Bring forth

Give rise to

Give birth to

Today’s victory clinched a berth for the Orioles in the playoffs.

They gave him a wide berth.

Losing that game, lost Amelia her berth on the team.

Verb, intransitive:
The Dutch freighter berthed at the Brooklyn docks.

He’s allergic to dogs, and he gives them a wide berth.

Verb, transitive:
These modern ships can almost berth themselves.

With the tugboats unavailable, the captain had to berth his ship on his own.

She is his birth mother.

They’re not his birth parents.

He was blind from birth.

Despite a difficult birth he’s fit and healthy.

* The overall rate of incidence of Down syndrome is one in every 800 live births.

The birth of democracy.

The mother is American by birth.

She was proud of her beauty and her birth.

Verb, intransitive:
In spring the cows birthed.

A study showed that residents of Ile aux Coudres would have birthed their first child by age 22.

Verb, transitive:
She had carried him and birthed him.

New York is the city that gives birth to artists.

Her efforts gave birth to a new business.

Verb, transitive: unberth Noun: birthing, childbirth, multibirth
History of the Word:
First known use: 15th century

Merriam-Webster states that berth is derived from the Middle English birth and is probably from beren meaning to bear + -th

Early 17th century, in the sense of adequate sea room

First known use: 13th century

Merriam-Webster states that birth is Middle English from the Old Norse byrth and is akin to the Old English beran

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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