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May 2008 The Written Word

This is the tale of four confusing words: “vial”, “phial” “vile”, and “veil”


Let’s get two of these out of the way immediately.     Vial and Phial (nouns) mean the same thing: A small bottle or vessel for holding liquids.  “Vial” comes from Old French, while “phial” comes from Greek. 


Vile is a horse of a different color, and is unrelated to bottles or vessels.  Vile is an adjective meaning evil, wicked, disgusting, degrading, or very nasty.  It sounds a little like “villain,” and that’s a good way to remember it.


A veil is a thin face covering.  Brides wear veils in formal ceremonies, and widows used to wear them as part of “widow’s weeds.”  Some women still wear them at funerals to hide their grief.   To veil is a verb meaning to cover with a veil, to disguise or hide.  Veiled is an adjective, meaning to cover with a veil, to hide.




The vial contained a clear liquid.

The glass vial shattered when she dropped it.

The phial held a greenish fluid.

Because of his vile remarks, he was thrown off the team.

The new medicine has a vile taste.


The bride wore a beautiful lace veil.

The entire project was veiled in secrecy.

His words contained a veiled threat.

He veiled the statue to hide its nudity.


If you don’t have a problem with these words, good for you, but if they confuse you, I hope I’ve helped.