2nd November 2016
Word Choice: Exhort vs. Extort
“Exhort” and “extort” are both verbs (i.e., action words) and similarly spelled, but neither is a word often used on a daily basis. This makes it easy to confuse them if you’re not careful.
But these terms also have very different meanings, so using the wrong one in your written work would be unfortunate. To make sure this doesn’t happen, keep the following in mind.
Exhort (Encourage or Urge)
If you “exhort” someone to do something, you’re encouraging or urging them to follow a particular course of action. For instance, as proofreaders, we might say:
Typos can look very bad to recruiters, so we exhort you to proofread your resume carefully!
A passionate attempt to persuade someone in this way is known as an “exhortation.”
Extort (Obtain via Force or Threats)
To “extort” something is to obtain it via force, coercion, intimidation or threats. For example, we might say that a school bully “extorts” lunch money from the other children.
The adjectival form of this word (i.e., used to describe actions or people that obtain something via force) is “extortive.” We’d use this term in a sentence like the following:
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The school bully’s extortive behavior meant she was given detention.
The term “extort” is most commonly used in relation to “extortion,” which is the crime of using force or threats to extract money from a person or business. Thus, we might say that a gangster or corrupt official has “extorted” money from his or her victims.
Exhort or Extort?
As you can see, there’s a big difference between “exhorting” someone to do something, which implies offering advice, and “extorting” something, which implies threatening someone.
If you’re still not sure which term is which, it can help to think that “extortion” is “extracting” money from someone, and that both of these start with the letters “ext.” Remember:
Exhort = Passionately advise or urge something
Extort = Gain something using threats or intimidation
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