3rd November 2020
Word Choice: Sheath vs. Sheathe
It is easy to mix up the words “sheath” and “sheathe” as they are related and differ by only one letter. But one is a noun and the other is a verb. In this post, we look at how to use “sheath” and “sheathe” correctly in your writing.
“Sheath” is always a noun and refers to a close-fitting cover. Typically, this is for a knife or sword to protect the blade when it isn’t in use:
His blade slid smoothly from its sheath.
But it can refer to any close-fitting or protective covering:
The cable is covered with a plastic sheath for insulation.
Myelin sheaths are sleeves of fatty tissue that protect nerve cells.
In all cases, we pronounce “sheath” to rhyme with “teeth.”
“Sheathe” is a verb meaning “encase in a close-fitting covering” (i.e., put something in a “sheath”). As with the noun, this usually refers to a blade:
The knights sheathed their swords.
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But it can refer to encasing or covering other things, too:
The cat kept her claws sheathed.
They sheathed the silver pendant in gold.
The landscape was sheathed in mist.
We pronounce “sheathe” to rhyme with words like “breathe” and “sleeve.” The extra “e” at the end thus gives it a slightly different sound to “sheath.”
Summary: Sheath or Sheathe?
These words are similar, so it’s easy to mix them up. But remember:
- Sheath (noun) refers to a close-fitting cover, typically for a blade.
- Sheathe (verb) refers to covering or putting a sheath on something.
The key distinction here is that “sheath” is always a noun and “sheathe” is a verb. If you’re referring to an action, then, the correct spelling will be “sheathe.” This follows the same spelling pattern as words like “breath” (noun) and “breathe” (verb) or “wreath” (noun) and “wreathe” (verb).
And for more help with word choice and spelling, or any other aspect of your writing, why not submit a free 500-word sample for proofreading today?
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