Word Confusion: Trail versus Trial

Posted July 9, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 18 March 2018

I don’t know why, but I never expected to need a word confusion on trail versus trial. Silly, really, since that i and l combination is always a problem, and it’s the most likely reason I ran across someone who was on trail for embezzlement.

It would have made sense if the forensic accountant had been on the trail, but these characters were in a courtroom. I generally associate trial with courtrooms.

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. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Trail Trial
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

A path up a mountainside

“Hui Hang Gu Dao” is Farm’s own work under the CC BY-SA 2.5 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

While I see a trail as more of a narrow path as it is in this photo, even a freeway can be considered a trail.

A medieval graphic of two men holding shields about to do personal battle

“Gerichtlicher Zeikampf” by Deutsch: unbekannter mittelalterlicher Künstler is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There are all sorts of trials, including a trial by combat.

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

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: trails
Past tense or past participle: trailed
Gerund or Present participle: trailing

Noun 3;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 4

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: trials
Past tense or past participle: trialed
Gerund or Present participle: trialing

A mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something

  • A track or scent used in following someone or hunting an animal
  • A part, typically long and thin, stretching behind or hanging down from someone or something
  • A line of people or things following behind each other

A beaten path through rough country such as a forest or moor

  • A route planned or followed for a particular purpose
  • [Also ski trail; North American] A downhill ski run or cross-country ski route

Short for trailer (in the sense of an excerpt or series of excerpts from a movie or program used to advertise it in advance; a preview)

The rear end of a gun carriage, resting or sliding on the ground when the gun is unlimbered

Verb, intransitive:
Draw or be drawn along the ground or other surface behind someone or something

  • [Typically of a plant] Grow or hang over the edge of something or along the ground
  • Be losing to an opponent in a game or contest

Walk or move slowly or wearily

  • [Of the voice or a speaker] Fade gradually before stopping

Verb, transitive:
Draw or be drawn along the ground or other surface behind someone or something

  • Follow a person or animal, typically by using marks, signs, or scent left behind

Advertise (something, especially a film or program) in advance by broadcasting extracts or details.

Apply slip through a nozzle or spout to decorate ceramic ware

A formal examination of evidence before a judge, and typically before a jury, in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings

A test of the performance, qualities, or suitability of someone or something

  • An athletic contest to test the ability of players eligible for selection to a team
  • [Trials] An event in which horses, dogs, or other animals compete or perform

A person, thing, or situation that tests a person’s endurance or forbearance

Verb, intransitive:
[Of a horse, dog, or other animal] Compete in trials

Verb, transitive:
Test something, especially a new product, to assess its suitability or performance

There was a trail of blood on the grass.

Police followed his trail to Atlantic City.

I love the look of a house entangled in trails of ivy.

Follow the trail of those ants and find out how they’re getting into the house.

The political candidates on are the campaign trail.

Which trail do you want to run this afternoon?

Verb, intransitive:
Her silken robe trailed along the ground.

The roses grew wild, their stems trailing over the banks.

The Packers were trailing 10–6 at halftime.

She trailed behind, whimpering at intervals.

Her voice trailed away.

Verb, transitive:
Alex trailed a hand through the clear water.

We trailed the bear to his den.

Trail the green slip in a squiggle design.

He’s on trial for murder.

It’s at the trial-and-error stage.

The newspaper accounts of the trial were sensational.

The editor was summoned to stand trial for libel.

Clinical trials must establish whether the new hip replacements are working.

They’re just beginning the horse trials.

Ah, yesss, the trials and tribulations of married life.

Verb, intransitive:
The pup trialed on Saturday.

Verb, transitive:
All seeds are carefully trialed in a variety of growing conditions.

Verb: [British] trialled, trialling
History of the Word:
1 Middle English which originally denoted the train of a robe, later generalized to denote something trailing.

2 Middle English from the Old French traillier meaning to tow or Middle Low German treilen meaning haul (a boat), based on the Latin tragula meaning dragnet, from trahere meaning to pull.

3 Late Middle English from Anglo-Norman French, or from medieval Latin triallum.

4 First known use: 1980s.

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

Pinterest Photo Credits

Natural Trails in the Mountains and Remington Noiseless are in the public domain, via VisualHunt.

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