Excite - exist - exit

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These three words, and their derivatives like exciting, exiting and existed have been confused. As they are all perfectly acceptable English words, spellcheckers will not notice that they are wrong. So watch out for them when you are proof-reading your writing.

  • "To excite" means to arouse or to stimulate. Often, for example in the physical sciences, it has a fairly neutral meaning. A biologist might excite a particular reaction from an organism by introducing a new feature into its environment: an oyster can be excited into producing a pearl by the introduction of grit into its body. A chemist might report that one can excite a particular reaction in a compound by shining light of a particular wavelength onto it. In ordinary life, it can be a very positive feeling: a football fan may be very excited at the thought of a particular match coming up, and a bride is usually excited as her wedding day approaches. In a more negative sense, children who are too excited begin to behave badly. (Note that the present participle of this verb has only one '-e-' - exciting, not exciteing.
  • 'To exist' is a slightly more formal way of saying 'to be'. We can say that "the earth has existed for about 4.5 billion years", or dispute this by saying "it has only existed since 4004 B.C." We can say that "this dispute exists in a very strong form in some sectors of U.S. society". "There exist several areas, like education and religion, in which this is felt to matter." Existing may be used as an adjective to contrast a current state with a proposed or suggested change.
  • 'An exit' is the simplest of these words. It means 'a way (or door, etc) out [of]'. Pedants object to its use, in English, as a verb: 'to exit'. (This is because the etymological derivation of the word is the 3rd person singular of the present tense of the verb exire, 'to go out of'. You can see this in play scripts: when a single character leaves the stage, it is shown by the stage direction [exit], ~'s/he goes out'; the plural form is [exeunt], ~'they go out'.) If you do choose to use exit as a verb, spell present participle as exiting, and the past tense exited.