Word Confusion: Sheath versus Sheathe

Posted September 7, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Reading of a character sheathing his sword got me to wondering what the difference was between sheath and sheathe. Obviously there had to be a difference; why else would
both words exist?

It’s pretty simple. A sheath is a noun, what one sheathes (verb) something into.

Consider the following:
His sword required a sheath.

He needed to put the knife into a casing. Probably didn’t want to stab himself.

His sword required a sheathe.

Eeek. Sounds like that sword is alive and needed to drink…something… Blood, maybe?

Sheath those cables.

Hmmm, put a dress on them? Ooh, maybe make the cables into a sheath dress?

Sheathe those cables.

Insulate those wires before they start a fire.

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.

Sheath Sheathe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Campbell Brown wearing a red sheath dress

JesseFRich’s own work [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Campbell Brown with CNN is wearing a red sheath.

Example of a coaxial cable sheated in insulation and a layer of metal.

Popproject3’s own work [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

A type of coaxial cable is sheathed in a dielectric and metal layer.

Part of Grammar:
Plural: sheaths
Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: sheathes
Past tense or past participle: sheathed
Gerund or present participle: sheathing

A close-fitting cover for something, especially something that is elongated in shape, in particular:

  • A cover for the blade of a knife or sword
  • A structure in living tissue that closely envelops another
  • [Also sheath dress] A woman’s close-fitting dress
  • A protective covering around an electric cable
  • A condom
To put a sword, dagger, etc., into a sheath

To plunge a sword, dagger, etc., in something as if in a sheath

To enclose in, or as if in, a casing or covering

To cover or provide with a protective layer or sheathing

To cover a cable, electrical connector, etc., with a metal sheath for grounding

To withdraw a claw into a sheath

I’m so relieved we got those sheaths for the machetes.

The fatty sheath around nerve fibers works to protect those nerves.

She wore a tight sheath of black and gold lurex.

Start by peeling back the sheath on the wiring.

A thin rubber sheath worn on a man’s penis during sexual intercourse as a contraceptive or as protection against infection is known as a condom.

Joan of Arc sheathed her sword.

He plunged his sword into him as if sheathing it.

She expertly sheathed his penis with a lamb intestine.

They want to sheathe the roof with copper.

You must sheathe electrical wires with an insulator.

He breathed a sign of relief when the tiger sheathed its claws.

Her legs were sheathed in black stockings.

Shipbuilders sometimes sheathed a ship’s bottom with copper for extra protection from barnacles and other threats.

Adjective: sheathless
Noun: sheathing
History of the Word:
Old English scǣth, scēath meaning scabbard is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch schede and the German Scheide First known use: 15th century

Late Middle English shethen from sheath.

Return to top

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