As a former English major, I have a love/hate relationship with the English language. On the plus side, I love the many nuances and flexibility. We make up new words in English and add them to the dictionary every year. We co-opt words from other languages and incorporate them into our own. An all-you-can-eat buffet, for example, is the most American thing ever invented, but the word “buffet” comes from the French, meaning a sampling of cold foods for a special occasion. In English, it means “Tuesday night at Golden Corral, where you pile fried chicken on top of your mashed potatoes and cover both with brown gravy.”
It is universally accepted that English is the hardest language to learn, mostly because it has more exemptions to rules, multiple words with the same meaning and thousands of pronunciation differences. If you’re reading this sentence you may be fraught that you got caught with something you bought or thought aloud about buying. Of course this was until you realized that “ou” and “au” sound about the same, but “ou” has four different pronunciations — “aw,” “ow,” “oo” and “ah.”
Two words that sound similar and have similar meanings can also drive native speakers a little batty. Not to mention words in our language that have such a slight and subtle difference in meaning that they are virtually indistinguishable.
I recently listened to a speaker at a conference who kept saying “persistence and perseverance” and used the words interchangeably. Perhaps he thought the words mean the same thing because they both begin with the same first four letters. Examples he gave for persistence were actually stories of perseverance and vice versa. Running a 26.2-mile marathon or graduating from college with a 4.0 GPA takes PERSEVERANCE, not persistence.
Persistence is defined as “firm or obstinate resistance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” Perseverance is “the continued effort to do or achieve something even if it’s difficult and takes a long time.” Yes the difference is subtle, but it’s an important one.
Persistence implies the negative connotation of stubbornness, while perseverance suggests resilience and patience.
This is how I can know the difference between these words. A salesperson needs persistence to succeed. A business owner needs perseverance. Cold calling can achieve some success if you’re stubborn and obstinate. Branding will achieve success if you’re resilient and patient. If you’re a business owner, then you need to persevere, not simply persist.