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ESL Story: Difficult pairs: credible vs. credulous

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Difficult pairs: credible vs. credulous

You’ll have to believe me on this one. The word is associated through Latin to ‘belief’. But then it depends on what sort of believing you’re doing. Often in the course of someone telling a story, they stop because their audience look as though they don’t believe what they are being told. The story teller wants to make it clear that this is a true story: Believe me, they say. Everything is absolutely true, honestly. What about the substance of the story? Let’s say someone is describing something that has just happened.

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It goes like this: I parked my car in the station car park and walked down a slope to the railway station. So far so good. I mean you can’t argue with that... As I approached the station I heard a loud bang. I turned round and saw that my car had rolled down the slope and hit another car in the back. Well, that’s possible if the handbrake wasn’t put on properly. You could say that at this stage that the story was credible – it was believable – you could believe it.

Back to the story teller. It had not only hit the car in front of it but the car it had hit, moved forward and hit another car. Do you think it’s credible so far? Well not really. The story goes on: Then that car that my car – that’s the third car in the story – well… And now we say I don’t believe you because your story isn’t credible, not believable. Now you would think not believable should mean ‘incredible’ but it’s not as easy as that I’m afraid... You could say of course the story is ‘incredible’ and want to say that it’s impossible to believe but the trouble is that it’s come to mean ‘amazing’ as in: At the Olympic Games Mary broke the world record by completing the race in an incredible time of nine seconds.

But now to the second word: ‘credulous’. This means ‘ready to believe anyone’ even if to most people what has been said is not at all credible. So, if you’d listened to the story about the accident in the station car park and had said: Oh that’s terrible. It must have been awful for you!’ Now that person would be called ‘credulous’. Believe me!

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Next:ESL Story: Difficult pairs: loose vs. lose

Author: Alan Townend


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