Jeremy Butterfield Editorial

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We will not waver, we will not tire. Waver or waiver? Commonly confused words (25-26)

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We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.

With those stirring, rhetorically honed words, President George W. Bush concluded his Address to the Nation on 7 October, 2001, launching Operation Enduring Freedom, in response to the attack on the World Trade Center.

If you search for them on Google, you will often come across “waiver” instead of waver, which highlights the common confusion of the two words.

(This blog is about 25 & 26 of 30 commonly confused words.)

waiver, waver; waive, wave

Quick “takeaways”

These four words can cause considerable confusion.

  • To waver is most commonly a verb.
  • A waiver is a noun, but is quite often wrongly used as a verb.
  • Occasionally the spelling waver is wrongly used instead of waiver for the noun.
  • The verbs wave and waive also sometimes get muddled up.
  • What follows are definitions of these words, and examples with correct or mistaken spelling.


1 waiver vs waver

Definitions & examples

1.1 to waver

If something such as flame or a flag wavers, it quivers or flutters in the air. Related to that idea, but recorded earlier in the OED, is its meaning with regard to people’s feelings, “to be indecisive”, and mental states “to fluctuate; to falter.” Things that typically waver are abstract nouns such as faith, loyalty, concentration, confidence and physical attributes such as voices and smiles. People also waver in or from sentiments like loyalty, determination, beliefs, etc.

TIP: If you think of someone or something wavering, they are as unsteady or changeable as a wave. Or, as the Bible (Authorized Version/King James) puts it:

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

James i. 6

1.1.1 Examples


…a video sequence of candles burning is particularly effective, as it is only when the flame occasionally wavers that the onlooker realises it is a moving image at all.

Architecture Australia (magazine).

Smith’s concentration wavered just enough in the following over.

Times of India.

The House came to a hushed standstill as Burke –  voice wavering – told MPs to give it a rest.

The Age, (Austr.).

Despite the problems cited in the assessment, Mr. Karzai has not wavered in his determination to complete the transition by spring, said several officials.


1.2 a waiver

A waiver relates to the verb to waive (see 2.1 below) and, according to the Collins English Dictionary, means:

  1. a) the voluntary relinquishment, expressly or by implication, of some claim or right
  2. b) the act or an instance of relinquishing a claim or right
  3. c) a formal statement in writing of such relinquishment

TIP: a waiver is ultimately related to the word waif, as in poor waif, and waifs and strays.

1.2.1 Examples

However, immigration officers have been told they have the discretion to grant a character waiver in cases where it would be “unduly harsh” to decline a visa.

NZ Herald.

The form contained a waiver of parental rights with respect to children resulting from any retrieved eggs., (US).

If you enjoy this blog, and find it useful, there’s an easy way for you to find out when I blog again. Just sign up (in the right-hand column) and you’ll receive an email to tell you. “Simples!”, as the meerkats say. I shall be blogging regularly about issues of English usage, word histories, and writing tips. Enjoy!

1.3.1 waiver wrongly used as a verb for waver

The one stakeholder, in fact the largest stakeholder, whose support for strong action on climate change has not X waivered [read “wavered”], is young people, who have the most to lose from inaction. The Age, (Austr.).

I have been saying for years that many charities are ripe for exploitation due to lack of professionalism and X  waivering [read “wavering”] from asking hard questions, and this proves it,” she says. Telegraph.

Andrew Sullivan of “The Daily Dish,” says Clinton will have pleased her supporters but I doubt she will have won over any X waiverers [read “waverers”] or doubters. CNN transcripts.

This misspelling also applies to the derivative waver, i.e. someone who waves a flag.

I’m a third-generation flag X waiver [read “waver”] and a second-generation military brat. Airman (magazine), (US).

1.3.2 waver for waiver

I believe that the US and the European Union have a visa X waver [read “waiver”] agreement. Oz Report.


2 to waive / to wave

Definitions & examples

2.1 to waive

If you waive something such as a fee, a right, privilege or a requirement, you decide not to impose it on someone else, or to make use of it yourself.

2.1.1 Examples

I feel that Amazon should waive the return fee and give me back my inventory.

StartUp Nation, (US).

But there are plenty of examples, plenty of precedents where White House officials have gone to testify before Congress. They have waived that executive branch privilege, if you will.

CNN Transcripts.

Mr Wilson’s interview meant that he had waived his legal confidentiality as a former client of the firm.

Blog, (NZ)

2.2 to wave

It hardly needs saying that to wave generally means to move your hand, or an object held in your hand, to convey a signal or message. Typical things you wave are hands, fingers, flags, placards, banners, handkerchiefs, magic wands, sticks, and swords. You can also wave goodbye or farewell.

TIP: A well-known example from poetry is Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning, whose first verse runs:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.


Hands reaching above water --- Image by © G. Baden/Corbis

Hands reaching above water — Image by © G. Baden/Corbis

2.2.1 Examples

It was his usual rhetorical trick: framing any call to act or lead as a demand to wave a magic wand that he does not have.


Benedict XVI confidently climbed the stairs of the aircraft, steady enough to not need the handrail, and turned to wave a final farewell to Great Britain.


Haji Mohammad Naim testified in his native Pashto through an interpreter, speaking loudly and quickly and frequently waving a finger in the air.


2.3.1 waive wrongly used for wave and vice versa

Sometimes people use waive for wave:

… an ocean of Ahmadinejad supporters X waiving [read “waving”] Iranians flags and traditional Shia banners. Guardian, Comment is Free.

More commonly, the mistake is the other way round.

Digital wallet Coinbase is also X waving [read “waiving”] all fees on Black Friday so that Bitcoin users can buy, sell, send and receive Bitcoins all day. Telegraph.

But after finding out that his team had lost, he decided to X wave [read “waive”] his exemption, and stand equal with his other losing team mates. Blog, (Brit.)

3 waver as a noun, and other derivatives of waver

waver can be a noun with some meanings of the verb:

Before Vince came to visit he asked, with a slight waver in his voice, if he’d be meeting my parents this time around. Philadelphia Weekly.

A person who wavers is a waverer (an uncommon word):

Call them the waverers or, worse for Mr. Obama, the drifters: people who provided his comfortable margin of victory in 2008 but are now overcome by doubts about his presidency NYT.

Other even less frequent derivatives are waveringly, and wavery:

The accrued biographical experience that produces place attachment…appears to help produce such hope (sometimes expressed waveringly by respondents) about a place that is always at risk to disaster. Reconstruction, (US).

… possibly the prettiest song Chernoff has written yet, with his wavery and unsteady vocals rising above a background of acoustic guitar, violin, haunting back-up vocals, … Stylus (magazine), (US).


To wave comes from the Old English verb wafian, whose Germanic base also gives rise to waver, and is first recorded c. 1000. (The unrelated noun wave, relating to water, is a sixteenth-century adaptation of the earlier form waw or waȝe).


Hokusai, The Great Wave at Kanagawa, from 36 views of Mount Fuji, c. 1829, combined with Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, 1889.

Wave as a noun, meaning an action of waving, is derived from the verb and is first recorded from 1688.

To waive comes from the Anglo-Norman verb weyver, a variant of Old French guesver, “to allow to become a waif, to abandon”, probably of Scandinavian origin.

The noun waiver is either a version of that weyver infinitive used as a noun, or a combination of the verb waive + the -er suffix.

To waver comes from Middle English waver, wever, related to Old English wǣfre, “restless”.

As a final verbal image for wave — though not the wave we’ve been talking about so far, so this is a bit of a cheat — here are some lines from Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach (1867)

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

William Dyce (1806_1864) Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th 1858. (?1858-60). Tate Britain.

William Dyce (1806-1864) Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858. (?1858-60). Tate Britain.



Author: Jeremy Butterfield

Editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Writer, wordsmith, copywriter, copy-editor and lover of words. I provide editing, web copywriting, and marketing copywriting services in the Central Belt of Scotland, including Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounding areas, as well as throughout the UK. You can find me on Twitter @JezzB2.

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