Word Confusion: Plain versus Plane

Posted June 5, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 4 October 2017

The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain can be a useful reminder that a plain is a geographic term, and once you have that in mind, I suppose you could also consider such a simple, ordinary word to clearly indicate the land as undecorated. Clearly a plain *grin*.

Now a plane could also be considered flat and undecorated, however it’s more of a tool, a philosophy, or an action.

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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Plain Plane
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Rural Beaver County, Oklahoma” is courtesy of DrunkDriver & Wikimedia Commons

This is a rural section of Beaver County, Oklahoma.

“Roman Planes” by User:Bullenwächter at the Saalburgmuseum is under the CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Roman planes found at Saalburg, Germany, 1st to 3rd century.AD.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1; Adverb 1; Noun 1;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: plains
Past tense or past participle: plained
Gerund or present participle: plaining

Adjective 3;
Noun 3, 4, 5, 6;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 3, 4, 5

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: planes
Past tense or past participle: planed
Gerund or present participle: planing

Not decorated or elaborate

  • Simple or ordinary in character
  • Without a pattern
    • In only one color
  • Bearing no indication as to source, contents, or affiliation
  • [Of a person] Having no pretensions
  • [Attrib.; of a person] Without a special title or status

Easy to perceive or understand

  • Clear
  • [Attrib.; of written or spoken usage] Clearly expressed, without the use of technical or abstruse terms
  • Not using concealment or deception
    • Frank

[Of a person] Not beautiful or attractive

[Attrib.] Sheer

  • [Used for emphasis] Simple

[Of a knitting stitch] Made using a knit rather than a purl stitch
[Submodifier; informal] Clearly

[Used for emphasis] Unequivocally

Large area of flat land with few trees

Verb, intransitive:
[British dialect or poetic; archaic] To complain

  • Lament
  • Bewail
  • Emit a mournful or plaintive sound

Also plain over

Noun, transitive:
To lament

  • To mourn over
  • Emit a mournful or plaintive sound
Completely level or flat

  • Of or relating to only two-dimensional surfaces or magnitudes

A surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it would lie flat 3

  • An imaginary flat surface through or joining material objects
  • A flat or level surface of a material object
  • A flat surface producing lift by the action of air or water over and under it

A level of existence, thought, or development

An airplane 4

Tool consisting of a block with a projecting steel blade used to smooth a wooden or other surface by paring shavings from it 5

A tall spreading tree with maple-like leaves and bark that peels in irregular patches 6

Verb, intransitive:
[Of a bird or airborne object] Soar without moving the wings 3

  • Glide

[Of a boat, surfboard, etc.] Skimming over the surface of water as a result of lift produced hydrodynamically

[Rare] Travel in an airplane 4

Verb, transitive:
Smooth wood or other material with a plane 5

  • Reduce or remove (redundant material) with a plane
  • [Archaic] Make smooth or level
It was good plain food.

Everyone dined at a plain wooden table.

They required a plain fabric for use in their clothing.

Donations can be put in a plain envelope.

He was a plain, honest man with no nonsense about him.

For years he was just plain Bill.

The advantages were plain to see.

Tt was plain that something was very wrong.

I wish these things were written in plain English.

He winced at her plain speaking.

She was a dark-haired, rather plain woman of character.

The main problem is just plain exhaustion.

I can master plain knitting, but nothing fancier.

Well, that was just plain stupid.

Perhaps the youth was just plain stupid.

The Great Plains became a dust bowl in the United States during the 1930s.

Verb, intransitive:
?? suggestions??

Verb, transitive:
“/ And, ‘plaining, mourn their cruel doom :/” (Drake, 153).

Plane and solid geometry will do the trick.

The plane of his forehead.

Everything is connected on the spiritual plane.

Let’s take a plane to Aunt Margaret’s this summer.

Use the big plane to shave a few inches off that two-by-four.

The sycamore is a plane tree.

The planets orbit the sun in roughly the same plane.

Verb, intransitive:
A bird planed down toward the water below.

He planed the bottom of the door so it cleared the carpet better.

Verb, transitive:
The high areas can be planed down.

Plane it smooth.

Adjective: plainer, plainest
Adverb: plainly
Noun: plainness
Noun: planeness
Verb: deplane
History of the Word:
1 Middle English from the Old French plain, which is from the Latin planus, from a base meaning flat.

2 Middle English (1250-1300), plei (g) nen from the Old French plaign-, a stem of plaindre, which is from the Latin plangere meaning to beat (the breast, etc.), lament. It is akin to the Greek plḗssein meaning to strike.

3 Early 17th century from the Latin planum meaning flat surface, a neuter of the adjective planus meaning plain. The adjective was suggested by the French plan(e) meaning flat. The word was introduced to differentiate the geometric senses, previously expressed by plain1, from the latter’s other meanings.

4 Early 20th century, it became a shortened version of airplane.

5 Middle English from a variant of obsolete French plaine meaning planing tool, which is from late Latin plana (in the same sense), from Latin planare meaning make level, which is from planus meaning plain, level.

6 Late Middle English from the Old French, which is from Latin platanus, from Greek platanos, which is from platus meaning broad.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Cody Aircraft Mark II RAE-O53 (pre-1914) by a Royal Engineers official photographer is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.