Just like other bad habits, it’s easy to fall into sloppy or ill-informed patterns where words are concerned. The more we see an expression — correct or incorrect — the more it becomes burned into our brain. Here are nine words that are commonly misused.
Momentarily • It doesn’t mean in a moment, it means for a moment. So, if you say “We will eat momentarily,” you’re telling your guests that they will have precious little time to gulp down their meal.
It’s/its • Use the apostrophe only where you would insert the word is. As simple as that.
I/me/myself • Use I when it’s the subject or is in the subject of the sentence: I went to the store, or John and I went to the store. Use me when it’s the object, or in the predicate: “He hit me. She brought dinner for John and me.” And be very careful with myself. It can never be the subject of a sentence. So don’t say, “John and myself are going to the store,” say “John and I are going to the store.” Don’t say, “If you have questions, call John or myself,” say “Call John or me.” When in doubt, try saying the sentence as if only you were being talked about.
Over • Over is a preposition; more than describes quantities. Don’t say, “Over one million people,” say “More than one million people.”
Misnomer • Ironically, the way this word is used is often a misnomer. It literally means named wrongly. It’s not the same thing as a misconception, which is a mistaken idea. The first part, mis means mistakenly, and nomer means to name.
Use/usage • Misuse of the word usage is becoming rampant. “His computer usage is excessive” should be “His computer use is excessive. Usage is defined as a customary way of doing something; a custom or practice, whereas use means to employ for some purpose; put into service; make use of.
Would of/could of/should of • Though most people pronounce it more like “of,” the correct phrases are would have, could have, should have.
Tenet/tenant • A tenet is a belief or principle; a tenant is someone who rents a dwelling.
Laxadaisical • It isn’t a word. The word is lackadaisical and it basically means lazy.
Next week: style errors
What wrongly-used words drive you crazy? Share them in the comments.