Word Confusion: Dam versus Damn

Posted September 15, 2020 by kddidit in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Dam and damn are another pair of heterographs (a subset of homophone), and while dam is considered a very informal alternative spelling for damn, please use dam only as a swear word in a character’s dialogue to establish that character as an ignorant person. It really isn’t appropriate, damn it.

If you keep to dam as a barrier that holds back or confines, you’ll do fine.

Now if you want to get mad, well damn me, go ahead and be damned.

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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Dam Damn
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Ask Difference: Dam vs Damn; Cambridge Dictionary: damn; Dictionary.com: dam, damn; The Free Dictionary: dam, damn

A broad view of the Wilson Dam

Wilson Dam is in the public domain, courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority, via Wikimedia Commons.

Brown egg with penned-in eyes is broken on the floor

Damn! by Martino! is under the CC BY-ND 2.0 license, via VisualHunt.

Part of Grammar:
Abbreviation; Adjective; Adverb; Exclamation; Noun 1, 2; Verb, transitive 1

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: dams
Past tense or past participle: dammed
Gerund or present participle: damming

Misspelling for: damn

Adjective; Adverb; Exclamation; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: damns
Past tense or past participle: damned
Gerund or present participle: damning

barrier, something that holds back

Decameter(s), dekameter(s), decametre(s)

Adjective, Adverb, Exclamation:
[Often used in combination] See the definitions under damn

A barrier constructed to hold back water and raise its level, forming a reservoir used to generate electricity or as a water supply 1

  • A body of water confined by such a barrier
  • A barrier of branches in a stream, constructed by a beaver to provide a deep pool and a lodge

[Also dental dam] A rubber sheet used to keep saliva from the teeth during dental operations, or as a prophylactic device during cunnilingus and anilingus

[Archaic] A mother 2

  • The female parent of an animal, especially a domestic mammal

A king or crowned piece in the game of checkers

Verb, transitive:
Build, furnish, confine with a barrier across a river or lake

  • [Often followed by up] Hold back or obstruct something
  • Stop up
  • Block up

[Informal; a shortened form of damned] Used to emphasize or express anger or frustration with someone or something

[Informal] Used for emphasis or to express anger or frustration


[Informal] Expressing anger, surprise, or frustration

The saying of damn as a curse

[Informal] The least valuable bit

  • A jot
  • Something of negligible value

Verb, intransitive:
To use the word damn

  • Swear

To prove (someone) guilty

Verb, transitive:
[In Christian belief; be damned] Be condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment in hell

  • Be doomed to misfortune or failure

Condemn, especially by the public expression of disapproval

  • Curse someone or something
  • Condemn as a failure
  • Ruin

To declare (something) to be bad, unfit, invalid, or illegal

It needs to be 10 dam. long

A dam. is a metric unit of length, equal to 10 meters.

“Storage capacity (in cubic decameters) of each reservoir is design capacity and does not represent the volume of water in the reservoirs during the study” (Donald).

That dam goat is gonna be the death of me!

He was screaming over and over “Dam scabs!”

He was a damfool.

She was a damn good pianist.


Stop, Ruth, dammit. I said stop it, right now.

The dam burst after a torrential rain.

Hoover Dam is located outside of Las Vegas.

There’s a beaver dam just up the river here.

“It’s as if a dam had burst,” said the Cossack hopelessly.

We’re going to place this dam in your mouth before we start drilling.

Arkitekt is the dam of this little guy.

Puppies can resemble the sire, the dam, or a combination of the parents or even a remote ancestor.

Verb, transitive:
The river was dammed to form Lake Powell.

The closed lock gates dammed up the canal.

Discussion was in full flow and refused to be dammed.

The Tennessee Valley was dammed up back in the 1930s.

Used colloquially

  • Turn that damn thing off!
  • Those damn sinners are making me crazy!
  • It’s none of your damn business.

Used properly:

  • “Anglers are again descending in droves on the dammed section of the Rio Grande” (Weissert).
  • He knew damned well what would happen.
  • You’re a damned, fool to try and drive that old car cross-country.

Don’t be so damn silly!

She’s too damn arrogant.

She is one damn fine pilot.

That car was going damn fast!

Damn! I completely forgot!

Damn! I can’t find my keys.

Damn it!

Oh, damn!

I don’t give a damn.

It’s not worth a damn.

His promise is not worth a damn.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Verb, intransitive:
The evidence was damning.

Glory be damned!

The enterprise was damned.

Verb, transitive:
You will be forever damned with Lucifer.

That is a crowd of intellectuals whom he damns as rigid doctrinaire idealists.

She cleared her throat, damning it for its huskiness.

Damn him for making this sound trivial.

He was damned to live out his life in poverty.

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

Adjective: damfool
Noun: damfool, dammer
Adjective: damnable, damnatory, damned, damnedest, damning
Adverb: damnably, damned, damningly
Exclamation: damnation
Noun: damnation, damner
Verb, transitive: predamn
History of the Word:
  1. Middle English from the Middle Low German or the Middle Dutch and related to the Dutch dam and the German Damm, also to the Old English fordemman meaning close up.
  2. Late Middle English denoting a human mother in an alteration of dame.
Middle English from the Old French dam(p)ner, from the Latin dam(p)nare meaning inflict loss on, from damnum meaning loss, damage.

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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Resources for Dam versus Damn

Donald, David B., Allan J. Cessna, Ed Sverko, and Nancy E. Glozier. “Pesticides in Surface Drinking-water Supplies of the Northern Great Plains.” Environmental Health Perspectives. The Free Dictionary.com. 1 Aug 2007. Web. 7 Aug 2020. <https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Pesticides+in+surface+drinking-water+supplies+of+the+northern+Great…-a0170116428>.

Weissert, Will. “Tourism Rebounds on Violence-marred Border Lake.” Monterey Herald. 11 Sept 2018. Web. 8 Aug 2020. <https://www.montereyherald.com/2011/06/19/tourism-rebounds-on-violence-marred-border-lake/>.

Pinterest Photo Credits:

Oroville Dam Spillway, 11 Feb 2017, by William Croyle with the California Department of Water Resources is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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