6th April 2016
Word Choice: Envelop vs. Envelope
Some words look or sound unhelpfully similar to others, which can be confusing if you speak English as a second language or rely heavily on automatic spellcheckers, which don’t pick up errors of this type.
The terms “envelop” and “envelope,” for instance, are one letter apart in spelling, yet confusing the two would affect the clarity of your writing.
But what exactly is the distinction between these terms?
Envelop (To Enclose or Enfold)
The word “envelop” is a verb meaning “to completely cover or enclose” something:
It’s cold outside, so I’ll envelop myself in a comforter and think warm thoughts.
The bridge was enveloped in fog, giving the scene a creepy look.
In military circles, “envelop” is also a word for a flanking maneuver, though you shouldn’t need to use this on a regular basis unless you’re in a combat situation!
Envelope (A Paper Container)
Although similar, “envelope” (with an “e”) is a noun, typically referring to the flat paper container used for sending letters (until email came along).
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After slipping the card into the envelope, she sealed it and handed it to the carrier.
“Envelope” also has a few technical meanings, such as the membrane of a virus or the limits within which an aircraft remains operational. This latter sense of “envelope” is actually how “pushing the envelope” came to mean going beyond expectations, as flight tests were designed to “push the envelope” of the aircraft being tested.
Envelop or Envelope?
Despite their similarity in spelling, “envelop” and “envelope” are importantly distinct; most notably, one is a verb (i.e., an action word), the other a noun (i.e., a naming word).
As long as you remember this difference it should be simple to tell them apart. “Envelop” will always describe an action, while an “envelope” will always name something (usually a papery container):
Envelop (verb) = To cover or enclose
Envelope (noun) = A papery container for mail
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