Commonly Confused Word Pairs: Green/eco

April 30, 2009: Issue 287

The word green has taken on new responsibilities in the past few decades, stretching beyond the color spectrum to encompass anything that supports or preserves the health of our planet:
green building
living a green life

The word is working hard already, so let’s not put additional demands on it. Avoid using it as a verb unless you’re talking about something changing color:
My ficus is greening up. Maybe I didn’t kill it after all.

And please don’t turn green into an adverb by adding -ly.

Also, remember that the word can be ambiguous. “Green kitchens” or “green gardens” can be interpreted two ways.

When you need to clarify that you’re using the word in its environmental sense, or if you must use it as a verb, try quotation marks. (This will usually happen in display type, in which case we use single quotes.)
‘Green’ kitchens
10 ways to ‘green’ your kitchen

While we’re on the subject, eco can be a stand-alone adjective:
eco kitchens
eco builders

Hyphenate it as part of a compound modifier:
eco-friendly ideas

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