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15 February 2012

Confusing words #1 – constraint/restraint

Yulia Latynina opens her column in today’s Moscow Times with this sentence:  
“While the Russian authorities are, for the time being, using kid gloves to deal with the opposition at home, they have not shown the same constraint in South Ossetia.”
What she should have written, correctly, was “the same restraint in South Ossetia”.
     Constraint is something which comes from outside. “We are constrained by a lack of resources…”   Restraint, by contrast, comes from within: “We are restrained by a guilty conscience…”
     You can “show restraint” by deciding to be lenient, or you can “have a constraint” on your actions as a result of some outside limitation.
     Though easily confused, these two words have rather different meanings.

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