Word Confusion: Absorb versus Adsorb

Posted October 23, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Most of the time I’m like a sponge: I absorb information. Other times, well, I adsorb it, and it just lies there on the surface without soaking in.

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating. No, not about myself, but about the exact definition. The adsorb part is usually a gas and is generally 1 molecule thick on that surface, and I think it’s easier to compare the differences by imagining a sponge that sucks up the water and absorbs it while brushing varnish onto a piece of furniture is more like adsorbing it.

Just remember to translate that adsorption image into a gas *grin*

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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Absorb Adsorb
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: adsorb

Tan line on a woman's shoulder

“Tan” by Evil Erin under the CC BY-2.0 license, via VisualHunt.

I’d say she absorbed some sun today.

Scientist in a HAZMAT suit saying a panel on its side

“NASA Technology Protects Webb Telescope from Contamination” is courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, under the CC BY 2.0 license or public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Molecular Adsorber Coating (MAC) is a NASA Goddard coatings technology that was developed to adsorb or entrap outgassed molecular contaminants for spaceflight applications.”

Part of Grammar:
Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: absorbs
Past tense or past participle: absorbed
Gerund or present participle: absorbing

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: adsorbs
Past tense or past participle: adsorbed
Gerund or present participle: adsorbing

Soaks in

Take in or soak up (energy, or a liquid or other substance) by chemical or physical action, typically gradually

  • Soak up
  • Take in and assimilate (information, ideas, or experience)
  • Take control of (a smaller or less powerful entity), making it a part of oneself by assimilation
    • Incorporate
  • To take up or receive by chemical or molecular action
  • Use, occupy, or take up (time or resources)
  • Take up and reduce the effect or intensity of (sound or an impact)

Engross the attention of someone

Forms on the surface in a thin film

[Medicine] To take up by the adhesion in an extremely thin layer of molecules (as of gases, solutes, or liquids) to the surfaces of solid bodies or liquids with which they are in contact

To undergo or cause to undergo a process in which a substance, usually a gas, accumulates on the surface of a solid forming a thin film, often only one molecule thick

Verb, intransitive:
To become adhered in an extremely thin layer of molecules (as of gases, solutes, or liquids) to the surfaces of solid bodies or liquids with which they are in contact

Verb, transitive:
[Physical Chemistry; of a solid] Hold (molecules of a gas or liquid or dissolved substance) as a thin, condensed film on the outside surface or on internal surfaces within the material

Buildings can be designed to absorb and retain heat.

Steroids are absorbed into the bloodstream.

She absorbed the information in silence.

The family firm was absorbed into a larger group.

The empire absorbed many small nations.

Arms spending absorbs roughly two percent of the national income.

Deep-pile carpets absorbed all sound of the outside world.

The work absorbed him and continued to make him happy.

I can get so absorbed in a book that I don’t hear what’s going on around me.

I kept thinking about that old Bounty commercial: the quicker picker-upper as it absorbed the spilled liquid.

Carbonic acid is formed when water absorbs carbon dioxide.

It took awhile before Mary absorbed the shock from the incident.

The market absorbed all the computers we could build.

Can your brain absorb all this information?

Verb, intransitive:
“Russia also insisted in its Paris submission that it be given the maximum potential credit for carbon adsorbed out of the atmosphere by Siberia’s vast undeveloped forests” (“Unlike others, Putin doesn’t criticize Trump over decision”, Washington Post, 3 June 2017).

Verb, transitive:
Charcoal will not adsorb nitrates.

The dye is adsorbed onto the fiber.

We can adsorb hydrogen on nickel while oxygen adsorbs on tungsten.

Adjective: absorbable, absorbed, absorbent, absorbing, absorptive, nonabsorbable
Adverb: absorbedly, absorbingly
Noun: absorbability, absorbance, absorbency, absorbent, absorber, absorption, nonabsorbability
Verb, transitive: overabsorb
Adjective: adsorbable, adsorbent, adsorptive
Noun: adsorbability, adsorbate, adsorbent, adsorption
History of the Word:
Late Middle English from the Latin absorbere, from ab- (from) + sorbere (suck in). Late 19th century, as a blend of ad- (expressing adherence) + absorb.

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:

Absorption et adsorption by Daniele Pugliesi is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

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