Desert Versus Dessert

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Imagine you are at a dinner with friends, and it is time to pick one of the delectable, mouth-watering sweets on the menu to end your meal. Are you ordering a desert or a dessert? Using the wrong word might give your friends and the waiter a good laugh, but using the wrong word in a written piece undermines your credibility as a writer. See below for definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary of each word and the part of speech that applies to each respective definition.

Desert defined

  1. a: arid land with sparse vegetation or b: an area of water apparently devoid of life (noun)
  2. a desolate or forbidding area (noun)
  3. to withdraw from or leave, usually without intent to return (verb)
  4. to leave in the lurch (verb) or in the military, to abandon without leave (verb)
  5. the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment (noun)
  6. deserved reward or punishment —usually used in plural (noun)

Dessert defined

  1. a sweet course or dish (as of pastry or ice cream) usually served at the end of a meal (noun)
  2. British : a fresh fruit served after a sweet course (noun)

Correct usage

With the definitions in mind, consider these examples.

Example 1: The dessert was full of all kinds of chocolate goodness.

Example 2: The desert is not somewhere you want to find yourself stranded.

Example 3: His widow is consumed by a desert of grief.

Example 4: The girl’s father promised he would never desert her.

Example 5: Good friends never desert you in a time of need.

Example 6: They got their just deserts (avoid confusing this usage with the dessert spelling, as both words are pronounced in the same way with this definition).

From these examples, you can see how using the wrong word undermines your credibility as a writer because it makes the sentences nonsensical.

Tricks to remembering the difference

There are several ways you can differentiate between the two spellings to ensure you spell the word correctly for what you are trying to say.

Trick #1:

When referring to desserts, think about how when you have one, you usually would love to have a second. From that, you should remember that there are two “s” in the right spelling.

Trick #2:

Associate a word with each “s” in the word. Associate strawberry shortcake with the two “s” in dessert, and associate the Sahara (a very large desert) with the one “s” in desert.

Trick #3:

Think of the desert as an impoverished, barren piece of land that only has one “s,” and view dessert as indulgent with its use of the second “s.”

Trick #4:

Look at the context of the sentence. “Dessert” only functions as a noun or adjective. “Desert” on the other hand, functions as an adjective, noun or verb. If the word is used as a verb, it is “desert.”