24 Words to Watch Out For

commonly misused words

These are the most commonly misused words I see online. This post is a quick guide to the correct usage* of these words.

Now more than ever, how we speak, write, and express ourselves online is crucial. Good writing can make the difference between success and failure; poor writing, incorrect grammar and bad word usage can damage your credibility and make you less trustworthy and believable.

1. Me/Myself

I’m starting with the one because it bugs me so much. I think people use myself because they think it sounds more educated than me. But it’s not.

Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It’s always used as the object of a sentence, never the subject. For example, I shot myself in the foot. In that sentence, I’m the object. Myself can also be used to intensify a noun or pronoun already used, such as, I will call her myself.

Example: Never use myself in the subject, as in: Jim and myself went to the store. It’s OK to say me or I, as in Jim and I went to the store.

2. Tenet/Tenant

A tenet is an opinion or principle.
A tenant is someone who rents a property from an owner.

Example: My tenant always pays his rent on time.

One of my business tenets is underpromise, overdeliver.

3. Momentarily

This is too-often used to mean in a moment. It means for a moment.

Example: He was here momentarily; he only stayed for a moment.

4. Effect/Affect

Effect (n): Something that follows a cause or antecedent.
Affect (v): To produce an effect upon.

If you remember that affect is a verb and effect is a noun, this will be much easier to keep straight.

Example: His words affected her deeply; the effect was dramatic.

5. Averse/Adverse

Averse: Having an active feeling of dislike or distaste.
Adverse: Unfavorable.

Example: I’m averse to the adverse effects of cigarette smoking. This would mean I dislike the side effects of smoking.

6. Misnomer/Misconception

Here’s another one that bugs me. Misnomer literally means misnamed, although it’s often used to refer to a misconception.

Remember it: Misnomer means wrong name, misconception means wrong idea.

Example: To call it a julienne cut is a misnomer; it’s actually a chiffonade.

7. Phased/Fazed

Phased means having a regular cycle of changes, such as the phases of the moon. Faze means to disturb the composure of.


Example: He was unfazed by the news.

8. Founder/Flounder

Besides referring to a delicious fish, flounder in its verb form means to struggle to move or get footing. Founder means to become disabled.

Example: He started to flounder on the steep staircase means he had trouble getting up the stairs.

The boat foundered at sea and stranded the passengers.

9. Infer/Imply

Remember it this way: You can infer from what someone implies.

Infer means to draw a conclusion, imply means to express indirectly.

Example: I inferred from his statement that she was not invited to the party.

He implied that she had not been invited to the party.

10. Regimen/Regiment

A regimen is a systematic plan. A regiment is a military unit consisting of a number of battalions.

Example: She is on a strict diet regimen to lose weight quickly.

His regiment will deploy to the Middle East in a month.


More About Writing and Words

Grammar and Punctuation: Make a Great First Impression
Copywriting for Your Website — Remember the Words
How to Write: My 8 Secrets


11. Weary/Wary

Weary means exhausted, and wary means marked by caution, especially when avoiding danger.

Example: We are weary from the long road trip.

I’m wary of this restaurant; it doesn’t look particularly clean.

12. Whet/Wet

To whet is to sharpen. We don’t get our appetite wet, we whet, or sharpen it before we eat.

Example: Advertising is meant to whet your appetite for the product.

I’m wet from my dip in the pool.

13. Palette/Palate/Pallet

A palette is a board that an artist mixes paint on, or it can represent a group of colors. Your palate is an anatomical structure in your mouth, or it can refer to a taste or liking. A pallet is a small temporary bed. Generally not particularly comfortable.

Example: The chef’s palate is so sensitive he can taste the smallest trace of an ingredient in a dish.

This color palette is flattering to everyone.

He’s sleeping on a pallet in my living room.

14. Flaunt/Flout

To flaunt is to display in a showy fashion; to flout is to treat with contemptuous disregard.

Example: Don’t flaunt your wealth or you’ll make yourself a target.
Don’t flout the law or you’ll be arrested.

15. Nauseated/Nauseous

You don’t feel nauseous if something upsets your stomach, you feel nauseated, which means to be affected with nausea. Nauseous is an adjective that describes something that causes nausea.

Example: I feel nauseated when I smell that garbage.
The smell of the garbage is nauseous.

16. A Lot/Alot/Allot

Alot isn’t a word, so don’t use it.

A lot means a great amount of. Allot means to assign or share a portion.

Example: A lot of people use the word lot incorrectly.
We can allot one meal to each family.

17. Every Day/Everyday

Everyday is an adjective. Every day refers to the frequency that something occurs. The only time it’s closed (as a compound word) is when it’s modifying a noun.

Example: This is an everyday task; I do it every day in the morning.

18. It’s/Its

This one is pretty rampant and egregious. Use the apostrophe only for a contraction. It’s means it is. The possessive form of its doesn’t need an apostrophe.

Example: The dog licked its paws.
It’s (It is) a brown dog.

19. Assure/Ensure/Insure

Assure means to make sure or certain; to convince. Ensure also can mean to make sure, or to guarantee. Insure means to provide insurance for.

Example: I will assure him that we can insure his car.
We need to ensure that he understands the policy.

20. Lead/Led

This one can be tough as the words are also homonyms. Lead (short e) refers to a metallic element. Led is the past tense of lead (long e), which means to guide.

Example: Please lead us through this difficult time.
She led us well through a difficult time.

21. There/Their/They’re

I have these three words on a cute kitchen towel in my home. There refers to a location, their is a plural possessive that refers to something belonging to more than one person, and they’re is a contraction of they are.

Example: They’re remodeling their house, which is in the neighborhood over there.

22. Whose/Who’s

Another contraction pair — whose is a singular pronoun, while who’s stands for who is?

Example: The man whose wife is over there is the leader of the group.
Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

23. Pored/Poured

Pore means to read or study intently. Pour means to cause to flow over something.

Example: I will pore over this report tonight so that I understand it thoroughly.
Pour water over the fire to put it out.

24. Peek/Peak

Peek is to take a furtive look at something. Peak means the highest level or degree.

Example: Don’t peek in the bag under the Christmas tree before December 25.
I’m at the peak of the mountain and the view is spectacular.

25. Unchartered/Uncharted

We’re seeing this one online a lot these days with the Coronavirus pandemic. Writers have referred to this crisis as unchartered waters. Unchartered simply means without a charter. Uncharted means not recorded on a map or plan.

Example: The ship’s aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle. With Gilligan …

The yacht sits unchartered in the harbor.

Remember it: It’s not really that hard, is it?

Words That Aren’t Really Words

Agreeance

Use agreement.

Conversate

It’s in the dictionary, but considered nonstandard. Just say talk.

Upmost

You really mean utmost. Don’t say upmost.

Irregardless

At best it’s nonstandard. The ir prefix makes it a double negative. Just use regardless.

Supposably

Not a word. Say supposedly.

Firstly, Secondly, etc.

The -ly is unnecessary. Just use first, second.

Word definitions for this article based on those at Dictionary by Merriam-Webster.

*Usage, as opposed to use, means the action of using something. So, if you use something frequently, you might say, “My usage of x is high.” But it would be incorrect to say, “That’s one usage of x.” The correct word in that sentence would be use.

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