'Dessert' vs 'Desert': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on November 4, 2023

‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’: What’s the difference? Sometimes, one letter can totally change the meaning and pronunciation of a word. While many words in English do this, it doesn’t make them less confusing. Let us guide you through distinguishing ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’.

Are you in a rush? Here’s a quick preview of what’s to come:

  • ‘Dessert’ refers to a sweet treat eaten at the end of a meal
  • ‘Desert’ refers to a barren landscape where nothing typically grows

What’s the Difference Between ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’?

It is evident that these words both mean different things and are spelled differently — so why is it so hard to tell them apart? This can happen when words are pronounced fairly similarly in some cases because our brains have a harder time distinguishing them on the page in front of us.

To clarify, ‘Dessert’ with two “ss” means the pastry course, while ‘Desert’ with one “s” means the arid landscape. To solidify the difference, we can use spelling clues. 

The plural ‘Desserts’ when backward spells the word ‘Stressed’:

  • The connotation, in this case, is that some people like to eat sugary foods when stressed, hence a reminder of the spelling of ‘Dessert.’

Meanwhile, the word ‘Desert,’ which refers to an abandoned, sandy landscape, is only spelled with one “s” and is devoid of a second “s.”

  • You can use the single “s” as a hint indicating that rarely anything grows in this climate, so there is only room for one “s” in the word itself. Additionally, sand is very common in the ‘Desert’ so you can connect the single “s” in ‘sand’ to the single “s” in ‘Desert’.

Using hints like the ones above can be a good starting place when trying to identify differences between new words. But, they don’t give us the full picture of either term, especially when each word has more than one definition. So let’s take a closer look individually at ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert.’

Definition of ‘Dessert’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Dessert’ is a noun that means:

  • The sweet course served at the end of a meal
    • “A dessert of chocolate mousse.”
  • A usually sweet course or dish (such as pastry or ice cream) is usually served at the end of a meal
  • A fresh fruit served after a sweet course
    • “The British serve fruit for dessert.”

The word ‘Dessert’ comes from the French origins ‘des-’ and ‘servir’ which combined to make ‘desservir’ which means “to clear the table.” We can see how, as the last course of a meal, ‘Dessert’ is, in a sense, part of clearing the table to end the meal. 

Synonyms of ‘Dessert’

  • Sweet course
  • Sweet treat
  • Last course
  • Pastry
  • Candy
  • Cake
  • Confection
  • Ice cream
  • Sweets
  • Pudding
  • Pie

Antonyms of ‘Dessert’

  • Appetizer
  • Savory course
  • Meat
  • Vegetables
  • Salty snack
  • First course
  • Healthy food
  • Starter
  • Sourness
  • Bitterness

Phrases with ‘Dessert’

  • Dessert course
  • Favorite dessert 
  • Skip dessert
  • Dessert case

Definition of ‘Desert’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Desert’ is a noun that means:

  • A dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation
    • “The Mojave desert was dry and vast.”
  • A situation or area considered dull or uninteresting
    • “The town was a cultural desert.”

As an adjective, the word ‘Desert’ can also mean:

  • Like a desert
    • “Overgrazing had created desert conditions.”
  • Uninhabited and desolate
    • “It was a desert waste.”

Finally, as a verb, the word ‘Desert’ can mean:

  • To abandon a person, cause, or organization in a way considered treacherous or disloyal 
    • “We feel our public representatives have deserted us.”
  • (of a number of people) to leave a place, causing it to appear empty
    • “The hurricane left the beaches deserted by tourists.”
  • (of a quality or ability) fail someone, especially at a crucial moment when most needed
    • “Her luck deserted her.”
  • (military) (of a solider) illegally running away from military service
    • “He was tired of fighting and wanted to desert.”

The word ‘Desert’ comes from the Latin ‘desertus’ which means “waste” or “left,” which connects us to both the emptiness of a ‘Desert’ landscape and the idea of leaving something behind. 

Synonyms of ‘Desert’

  • Barren 
  • Uncultivated
  • Arid
  • Desolate
  • Wasteland
  • Dry area
  • Wilderness
  • Sand dunes
  • Abandon
  • Defect
  • Betray
  • Flee
  • Forsake
  • Abscond
  • Give up
  • Vacate

Antonyms of ‘Desert’

  • Inhabited
  • Lush
  • Populated
  • Oasis
  • Fertile
  • Wetland
  • Rainforest
  • Remain
  • Stay
  • Maintain
  • Aid
  • Come back

Phrases with ‘Desert’

  • Sahara Desert
  • Dry as a desert
  • Deserted towns
  • A deserter
  • Desert climate
  • Desert storm 

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’

The pronunciation of these words can often be what causes confusion, given they overlap in some cases. Pay attention to the phonetic spellings below not only for how to say the word aloud but also to understand which syllable gets the emphasis in each word. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Dessert’ as a guide:

  • ‘De-zerrt’ (the emphasis in this term goes on the second syllable ‘zerrt’ while the first syllable is swallowed)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Desert’ as a guide:

  • ‘Deh-zert’ (the emphasis in this case is on the first syllable, and the second is an afterthought)

An important note: when using the word ‘Desert’ in its verb form (as in to abandon), the pronunciation is the same as ‘Dessert’ with the emphasis on the second syllable. Be extra cautious of this in conversation to make sure you understand which form of the word is being used. 

How to Use ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new vocabulary is being able to use the words on your own terms. It is especially important to recognize the different contexts in which these words can appear, so use the sample sentences below as a reference. 

‘Dessert’ Example Sentences

  • By the time they had gone through every dish in their deluxe five-course meal, she wasn’t sure if she had room for dessert
  • My favorite dessert growing up was cannoli, so my parents often tried to get them for me on special occasions. 
  • If the children had their way, they would skip straight to dessert, but the nanny insisted they finish their vegetables first. 
  • He had gone through culinary school and had learned to cook plenty of dishes, but making desserts was always his favorite. 

‘Desert’ Example Sentences

  • The rolling sand dunes in the Sahara Desert seem to resemble an endless sea of golden waves. 
  • If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only bring three things with you, what would you bring? 
  • Cactuses are one of the few types of plants that can grow in the desert because of their ability to store water. 
  • The hotel was rumored to be haunted and had been deserted by the owners a long time ago, so the kids wanted to check it out. 

‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’ Example Sentences

  • She loved studying ancient Egypt, so her parents bought her a cake for dessert that had the Pyramids of Giza surrounded by a desert landscape on it.
  • His date had stood him up and deserted him at the restaurant, so he treated himself to ice cream for dessert to feel better. 

Final Advice on ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’

When words only have a one-letter difference between them, they can be hard to distinguish. But when you break them down and use their spelling as clues, you can tell them apart easily. Remember that the pronunciations of ‘Dessert’ vs ‘Desert’ can overlap in some cases, so pay attention to context clues. 

Need a recap? Here’s a short overview of what we covered:

  • ‘Dessert’ is a noun meaning the sweet course served at the end of a meal
  • ‘Desert’ is a noun that means a dry landscape, but as a verb, it means to abandon

Want more tricks to navigating similar words? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that cover terms with similar spellings but entirely different meanings. Learning to use small hints to tell words apart can be a great way to hone your attention to detail and increase your vocabulary knowledge. 

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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