Question: “I have a co-worker who regularly uses ‘aid’ and ‘aide’ interchangeably, and it drives me crazy. Can you address this topic?”
Answer: I not only can, but will, dear reader!
“Aid” and “aide” are only a single letter apart, they sound the same and they have related meanings – so confusing them doesn’t seem such an extraordinary thing.
Both words come to English by way of French, although “aid” traces its roots back to the Latin verb ajduvare — to be of use, be profitable, or to help, aid, encourage. “Aide” is actually the more modern of the two: it originated in the 1770s as aide-de-campe. A quick look at our friend the dictionary tells us an aide-de-campe was a military officer assigned to be an assistant to a senior officer. Thanks, Mr. Dictionary!
While that’s interesting and all (if you happen to be a huge grammar nerd), it doesn’t help us learn to use them without a bit of boiling down. So let’s get boiling.
The number one thing to remember when distinguishing between these two words is that an “aide” is a person. So if you’re referring to a helpful someone, call them an “aide.”
“Aid,” on the other hand, can be either a noun or a verb. As a noun, “aid” refers to help as an abstract object (ex. I was able to enjoy the musical thanks to my hearing aid.). As a verb, “aid” is the action of helping (ex. Calling Crime Stoppers may aid the police in catching criminals.).
And … that’s it. Keep this one simple and you won’t have any more problems with it. That’s all for now, folks!