Word Confusion: Biennial vs. Biannual

Some similar words are so familiar and so different in meaning that, should a client muddle them up, you will notice them right away. For instance, if an essay refers to Darwin’s theory of revolution, you can safely assume that this is an essay on the Origin of Species, not an examination of Darwin’s opinions on a classic Beatles song.

Some words, however, can be tricky even for professional proofreaders. This is particularly true when it is not immediately obvious which of two words is meant. We may be tempted to just leave things as they are and assume the customer is always right. But when you correct people for a living, this is a risky approach.

Biennial and Biannual

Two troublesome words are ‘biennial’ and ‘biannual’. For a start, these terms have very similar spellings. If you are expecting ‘biennial’ and your concentration is waning, you might not notice a rogue ‘biannual’ (which is why you should eliminate distractions and take regular breaks when proofreading, but more on that in another blog post).

To make things more complicated, they look like they should mean the same thing, but they don’t. Therefore, they are not on any level interchangeable. Remember:

  • Biennial means once every two years.
  • Biannual means twice a year, or twice every 365 days.

If you do not pick up on misuses of these words in a client’s document, it could be misleading.

But can you be sure which one a client meant? Not always. However, if ever you are unsure of a customer’s meaning, you can leave a comment to check.

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