Word Confusion: Gild vs Gilt vs Guilt

Posted May 22, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions

Revised as of 1 September 2017

No one should have a problem with gild/gilt versus guilt — a trio of heterographs, HOWEVER, the difference between gild and gilt is very fine.

Both words relate to making something/one more “beautiful”, but to gild is the action that results in the gilt. And yes, there are instances in which one can be the other, relying primarily on the historical time period. You’re probably safe in any confusing with gild and gilt, but don’t make the mistake I ran across when the “the gilt of the man was too obvious to see”, ’cause I know the author wasn’t talkin’ about the James Bond scene in which the girl is covered in gold paint!

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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Gild Gilt Guilt
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Applying gold leaf

“Goldleaf” by Juangonzalez64 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The action of gilding a picture frame.

Silver-gilt ladle from the Hoxne Hoard in the British Museum showing use of Christian symbol.

“Hoxne Hoard Ladle” by under the CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL licenses, via Wikimedia Commons

Silver gilt ladle from a Roman archeological dig.

World War II poster

“Guilty Of Mishandling Tools. Good Tools Deserve Good Care.” by Packer, a poster artist, (NARA record: 8467744) is with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Oh…the guilt of it all…

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1; Verb, transitive 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: gilds

Past tense or past participle: gilded, gilt

Gerund or present participle: gilding

Adjective 3; Noun 3 and 4
Plural for noun: gilts
Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for noun [slang] and third person present verb: guilts

Past tense or past participle: guilted

Gerund or present participle: guilting

to cover in gold

[Archaic] Guild

  • A medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power
  • An association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal

Verb, transitive:
Cover thinly with or as if with gold

  • To cover with gold leaf
  • Give a specious or false brilliance to

To unnecessarily adorn something already beautiful

  • To praise someone inordinately

To give a falsely attractive or valuable appearance to

[Archaic] To smear with blood

To make appear drunk


Covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint

Gold leaf or gold paint in a thin layer on a surface 3

  • Gilding

[Slang] Money

[Finance] A security issued by the Bank of England

A young sow at, or nearing, the first year of breeding 4

did wrong

The fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime

  • A feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation

Conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.

Verb, transitive:
[Informal; often followed by out or into] To cause to feel guilty

Make someone feel guilty, especially in order to induce them to do something

The universities at Bologna, Oxford, and Paris evolved from a gild of students or masters.

In the Middle Ages, craftsmen gathered together into gilds to protect their secrets.

Verb, transitive:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily; to throw perfume on the violet, … is wasteful, and ridiculous excess” – Shakespeare, King John vi. ii. 11

They gild the facts until the truth all but vanishes.

In 1436, he gilded and painted statues for Bruges Town Hall.

He fetched out a couple of cigars, everlasting big ones, with gilt bands on them.

He’s guaranteeing it with gilt-edged bonds.

It is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt.

He remembered with sudden guilt the letter from his mother that he had not yet read.

Did Johnny admit to his guilt?

I have such guilt about some of the things I did as a child.

Paul has lived a life of guilt.

Verb, transitive:
She totally guilted me out, dude.

He guilted me into picking up the tab.

Celeste had been guilted into going by her parents.

Adjective: gildable, gilding
Noun: gilder, gilding, gildsman
Adjective: gilt-edged, giltwood
Noun: gilding
Adjective: guilt-free, guilt-ridden, guiltless, guilty, guiltier, guiltiest
Adverb: guilt-free, guiltily, guiltlessly
Noun: guilt-trip, guiltiness, guiltlessness, nonguilt, preguilt
Verb: guilt trip, guilt-tripped, guilt-tripping
History of the Word:
1 Late Old English and probably from Middle Low German and Middle Dutch gilde and is of Germanic origin.

2 Old English gyldan is of Germanic origin and related to gold.

3 Middle English is an archaic past participle of gild.

4 Middle English from Old Norse gyltr.

Old English gylt is of unknown origin.

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:

Edie Campbell in ‘Gilt Trip’ by Tim Walker for W Magazine, May 2014” is courtesy of FashionCOW in a photography layout on the beauty of Burma.