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Saturday, January 30, 2010

32 most commonly misused words

Let’s get right to the point. Misusing words makes you look less intelligent than you really are. If you misuse words in your writing, it can damage your credibility and diminish the point you’re trying to make. Even worse, it could completely change the meaning of the sentence.

What follows is a list of the 32 most commonly misused words and phrases.

1. Accept/Except- Although these two words sound alike (they’re homophones), they have two completely different meanings. “Accept” means to willingly receive something (accept a present.) “Except” means to exclude something (I’ll take all of the books except the one with the red cover.)

2. Affect/Effect- The way you “affect” someone can have an “effect” on them. “Affect” is usually a verb and “Effect” is a noun.

3. Alright- If you use “alright,” go to the chalkboard and write “Alright is not a word” 100 times.

4. Capital/Capitol- “Capitol” generally refers to an official building. “Capital” can mean the city which serves as a seat of government or money or property owned by a company. “Capital” can also mean “punishable by death.”

5. Complement/Compliment- I often must compliment my wife on how her love for cooking perfectly complements my love for grocery shopping.

6. Comprise/Compose- The article I’m composing comprises 32 parts.

7. Could Of- Of the 32 mistakes on this list, this is the one that bothers me most. It’s “could have” not “could of.” When you hear people talking, they’re saying “could’ve.” Got it?

8. Desert/Dessert- A desert is a hot, dry patch of sand. Dessert, on the other hand, is the sweet, fatty substance you eat at the end of your meal.

9. Discreet/Discrete- We can break people into two discrete (separate) groups, the discreet (secretive) and indiscreet.

10. Emigrate/Immigrate- If I leave this country to move to Europe, the leaving is emigrating and the arriving is immigrating.

11. Elicit/Illicit- Some people post illicit things on message boards to elicit outrageous reactions from others.

12. Farther/Further- Farther is used for physical distance, whereas further means to a greater degree.

13. Fewer/Less- Use fewer when referring to something that can be counted one-by-one. Use less when it’s something that doesn’t lend itself to a simple numeric amount.

14. Flair/Flare- A flair is a talent, while a flare is a burst (of anger, fire, etc.)

15. i.e/e.g- I.e. is used to say “in other words.” E.g. is used in place of “for example.”

16. Inflammable- Don’t let the prefix confuse you, if something is inflammable it can catch on fire.

17. It’s/Its- It’s= it is. Its=a possessive pronoun meaning of it or belonging to. Whatever you do, please don’t use its’.

18. Imply/Infer- A reader infers what an author implies. In other words, when you imply something, you hint at it. When you infer something, you draw a conclusion based on clues.

19. Literally- If you say “His head literally exploded because he was so mad!” then we should see brains splattered on the ceiling.

20. Lose/Loose- If your pants are too loose you may lose them. That would be almost as embarrassing as misusing these two words.

21. Moral/Morale- Morals are something you want to teach your kids. If your team’s morale is low, you need to do something to boost their confidence.

22. Percent/Percentage- The word “percent” should only be used when a specific number is given. “Percentage” is more of a general term.

23. Stationary/Stationery- You are stationary when you aren’t moving. Stationery is something you write on.

24. Then/Than- “Then” is another word for “after.” Incidentally, the word “then” makes for boring writing. “Than” is a comparative word (e.g. I am smarter than you).

25. There/Their/They’re- There are few things as frustrating as when I look at my students’ writing and they’re misusing these words in their writing.

26. Unique- Something can’t be “kind of unique” or even “very unique.” It’s either one-of-a-kind or it isn’t. There is no in between when it comes to unique.

27. Your/You’re- If I had a nickel for every time I saw this one… yeah, you know the rest. “Your” shows ownership and you’re is a contraction meaning “you are.” Get it right.

28. To/Too/Two- Two is a number. “To” is used in instances such as, “I am going to the store.” If you are supposed to use the word “too,” try inserting the word “extra” or “also.” If one of those fits, you need to also add the extra “o” to make “too.”

29. Lie/Lay- After you lay the books on the table, go lie down on the couch.

30. Sit/Set- Set your drink on the table and sit in your chair. Got it?

31. Whose/Who’s- Whose is the possessive form of who. Who’s is a contraction meaning “who is.”

32. Allude/Elude- When someone alludes to something in conversation (indirectly references), if you aren’t paying attention the meaning may elude you (escape you).

Which misused words drive you crazy? Share them in the replies.


  1. adapt / adopt
    adapt - to change something to make it suitable for a different purpose
    adopt - to take someone else's child into your home and legally become its parent

  2. 34. assess / access
    assess - to make a judgment about a person or situation after thinking carefully about it or to calculate the value or cost of something

    access - to find information, especially on a computer