Desert or Dessert | Difference & Example Sentences

Desert and dessert are two unrelated words that are spelled similarly. They can be pronounced differently or the same, depending on the meaning.

Spelling Pronunciation Example sentences
Dessert [deh-zert] The waiters cleared the table before serving dessert.
Desert [deh-zert] The Sahara is the largest desert in the world.
[deh-zert] I begged Adrian not to desert me, but he was determined to leave.
[deh-zert] After the conviction, everyone agreed that the culprit had gotten his just deserts.

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Dessert is a noun

Dessert (pronounced [deh-zert]) is a noun referring to the sweet final course of a meal. Unlike “desert,” it has only one meaning and is never used as a verb.

Example: Dessert in a sentence
The main course was so filling that she didn’t order any dessert.

Desert as a noun

Desert (pronounced [deh-zert]) is usually a noun referring to terrain that is devoid of water and plant life.

Example: Desert as a noun
There was nothing but sand in the desert.

It can also be used figuratively to describe a dull or empty place (e.g., “a cultural desert”).

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Desert as a verb

As a verb, desert (pronounced [deh-zert]) refers to the act of abandoning someone or something in a disloyal manner, or leaving a place without the intention of returning.

It can also be used to describe the act of abandoning one’s military role without official leave (a soldier who abandons their role is a deserter).

Examples: Desert as a verb
She is an honorable person who would never desert her principles.

The soldier deserts his platoon and flees the battlefront.

The village has been deserted ever since the earthquake.

Just deserts or just desserts?

Just deserts (pronounced [deh-zerts]) is a common expression that means “appropriate punishment.” It should never be written “just desserts,” since it’s got nothing to do with food.

Example: Just deserts in a sentence
The cyclist who cheated got his just deserts later in the race when he accidentally punctured his tire.

In this phrase, “desert” is being used as a noun again, but with a different meaning related to the word “deserve”: your desert is what you deserve. This sense of “desert” is rarely used now, except in this phrase. “Just” refers to something that is morally right or fair.

Worksheet: Dessert or desert

Test your knowledge of the different senses of “desert” and “dessert” by using the worksheet below! Fill in a version of “desert” or “dessert” in each sentence.

  1. Although few humans live in the _______, a number of reptiles and mammals can survive the harsh conditions.
  2. In some countries, it’s common to eat _______ before the main course.
  3. He _______ her in her time of need.
  4. Cactus and agave are _______ plants.
  5. I hope the culprits get their just _______.
  1. Although few humans live in the desert, a number of reptiles and mammals can survive the harsh conditions.
    • “Desert,” as a noun, refers to a dry, uninhabitable landscape.
  1. In some countries, it’s common to eat dessert before the main course.
    • “Dessert” is a noun that refers to a sweet course that’s typically eaten at the end of a meal.
  1. He deserted/deserts her in her time of need.
    • “Desert,” as a verb, refers to the act of abandoning someone or something. The past participle of “desert” is “deserted.” The present form would also fit here.
  1. Cactus and agave are desert plants.
    • “Desert” can also be used as an adjective to refer to something that’s desolate or related to a desert.
  1. I hope the culprits get their just deserts.
    • “Deserts” is correct here. “Just deserts” is a common expression that means “appropriate punishment.” It uses an alternate sense of “desert” meaning “what one deserves.”

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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Ryan, E. (2023, February 05). Desert or Dessert | Difference & Example Sentences. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/commonly-confused-words/desert-or-dessert/

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.