Peak and peek appear and sound so similar that writers often mix them up. Let’s sort out the confusion.
Part of the reason they are difficult words is that each can be a noun or a verb.
A peak, as a noun, is a high point, like a mountain. To peak, the verb form, means “to reach the height of something.” Meanwhile, a peek (noun) is “a look or a glance” and to peek (verb) means “to look”.
But let’s do more than just take a peek at these words. Let’s climb this mountain to reach peak understanding — that’s right, peak can be an adjective too! As an adjective, peak means “top or utmost.” (As you can see, this meaning relates back to its noun form, meaning a high point.)
Got it all? Let’s take a closer look…
When to Use Peak
All the common uses of the word peak relate to the same idea: a point.*
Definitions of Peak
- Peak as a noun: a summit, a high point, a projecting point.
- Peak as a verb: to rise, to bring to a peak or maximum.
- Peak as an adjective: maximum, greatest, characterized by a peak.
*Note: I say “common uses” because the OED lists ten separate definitions for the word peak — but most of them are obscure or obsolete now. Whew.
Examples of Peak
In the first example, peak is used in its most literal context, referring to the high points of mountains:
“In the mountains, the shortest way is from peak to peak:
but for that you must have long legs.”Friedrich Nietzsche
In the next example, peak is used as both a noun and as a verb:
“I want to go out in my peak. That’s my goal.
But have I peaked yet?”Serena Williams
Ms. Williams uses the noun peak more figuratively, referring to a high point of her career. When she asks, “But have I peaked yet?”, we see her using the verb form, as in, “Have I reached that high point?”
When to Use Peek
Uses of the word peek refer to “looking out”, but not in the “I’m looking out for you” way.
Definitions of Peek
- Peek as a verb: To look out, to peer or glance furtively, as from a concealed location.
- Peek is also used figuratively when something appears to be looking out, often in the phrase, “peek out from.”
- Peek as a noun: A quick look, a peep.
Examples of Peek
Here’s peek used as a verb:
“Hearing about the neighbor’s new dog, the little girl ran to the backyard, found a hole in the fence, and peeked at the playful puppy with joy and adoration.”Author Name
And here, as a noun:
“Don’t open the oven to check on your souffle —
even the briefest peek can cause it to collapse.”
Putting It All Together
Peak and Peek Used Together
Let’s see these words used in the same sentence:
“Through the dense forest that grew near the mountains, he could only occasionally peek at the snow-capped peaks.”
Okay, so now you know what the differences between peak and peek are, but how do you remember them?
Remembering the Difference between Peak and Peek
A simple mnemonic, or memory trick, will help you keep these words straight: The word peak has the letter a in it, and the capital version, A, comes to a point — a peak!
Hey, Something’s Missing! What About “Pique?”
Hey, what about the word pique? Does its omission have you in a fit of pique? Or have I simply piqued your curiosity by bringing it up?
The word pique is another homophone (or sound-alike) of peak and peek.
Maybe it deserves its own article, but for now, here’s the quick and dirty: As a noun, pique is a feeling of irritation. And as a verb, pique means either to feel irritated or simply to stimulate or arouse.
Furthermore, pique is a French word meaning “to prick, sting, or pierce” (source). So when someone “piques my interest,” it means that it grabbed or came upon me in such a way that I can’t ignore it. It does not mean that the thing as at the height of my attention, just that it got my attention.
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