Aisle vs. Isle: What’s The Difference?

The most confusing and infuriating words in the English language are homophones that sound alike but are spelled differently and have completely different meanings. When you are having a conversation with someone, you would never know what version of the word they are using since you don’t see it spelled out. But then when it comes time to use the word in written correspondence, you are stumped by these commonly confused words. This is the case with the words “isle” and “aisle”. They are very confusing words and people often don’t know the difference. Here, we’ll explore the differences in these two words, where they come from, and how to use them properly.

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Definition of Aisle

To better understand a word it is important to look at its definition. The definition of aisle according to Merriam Webster is, “ a passage (as in a theater or railroad passenger car) separating sections of seats” or “ such a passage regarded as separating opposing parties in a legislature.” This word is commonly used when referring to someone walking down the aisle at a wedding or walking down an aisle in a grocery store. 

History and Origin of Aisle

The etymology of a word can tell us a lot about how the word evolved in meaning over time and where it came from. According to the etymology of the word aisle, it comes from the late 14th century and the word “ele”. It meant the “lateral division of a church”. It also comes from the Old French ele, meaning “wing or side of a ship.” The Latin word “ala” is also closely related to aisle which came from the word “axilla”. 

Synonyms for Aisle

To solidify a word into your vocabulary, it is useful to explore words with similar or the same definitions.  The more words you know that can fit into a specific context, the easier it will be to remember which ones to use. Here are some synonyms for the word aisle.

  • Passage means a narrow way, typically having walls on either side, allowing access between buildings or to different rooms within a building; a passageway.
  • Gangway means a raised platform or walkway providing a passage.
  • A path means a way or track laid down for walking or made by continual treading.

Examples of the Word Asile in Context

Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly.  Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation.  Here are some common examples of the word aisle in context:

  • People were so excited about the performance they started to dance in the aisle.
  • The bride walked down the aisle steadily, trying not to trip.
  • The aisle on the bus was so narrow that you had to turn sideways to walk through it.

Definition of Isle

The word isle is often confused with the word aisle. However, the word isle is defined as, “a small island or peninsula.” This is often used to refer to a geographic location such as the Pacific Isles, the British Isles, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Palms, or the Isle of Wight. 

History and Origin of Isle

To better understand isle and how it is different from the word aisle, let’s look at its origin.

The word isle is from the 13th century, from the old French world “ile”. The Latin word for island is “insula”. According to Etymonline, “Perhaps (as the Ancients guessed) from in salo “(that which is) in the (salty) sea,” from ablative of salum “the open sea,” related to sal “salt”.

Synonyms for Isle

As discussed previously, many of the synonyms for the word isle are actually situational and have to do with the context that the word is used in.  However, learning a word’s synonyms can be an excellent way to solidify that word’s meaning in your head without having to memorize a complicated definition. Some synonyms for isle are: 

  • Island is a fairly small area of land completely surrounded by water.
  • Islet a fairly small area of land completely surrounded by water.
  • Atoll is a ring-shaped landmass surrounded by water and made of coral

Examples of the Word Isle in Context

To not confuse isle with aisle when using it, you may want some examples of the correct word isle being used. 

Here are some helpful sentences that use the word isle. 

  • We landed our boat on the isle that we had all to ourselves.
  • The deserted isle was in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
  • I have always dreamed of traveling to the Emerald Isle. 
  • There are both desert isles and tropical isles — I like them both. 

In Summary

Many people make grammatical errors when trying to spell, like switching isle/aisle because English spelling and grammar are full of rules and contradictions. This may have been the first time you heard there was a difference between aisle and isle and you may have been using them interchangeably. That is okay, as long as you know the difference now, after reading more about it. Spelling and grammar are a learning process and nobody’s perfect, that’s why spellcheck exists.  It is impossible to know everything about the English language because it can take a lifetime to master. 

If you use the wrong version of a word such as aisle, it can completely change the meaning of your sentence. This will confuse whoever you are trying to communicate with. This common misspelling is another reason why we sometimes say that words get “lost in translation.” 

By reading this article, you should be fully prepared to use the word isle and aisle in any context where it is appropriate. Just make sure you know that geographical isles are different from church aisles.