20 Misused English Words That Make Smart People Look Silly

Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 39 Comments
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the thinker with parrot

By Travis Bradberry | Quartz

We’re all tempted to use words that we’re not too familiar with. If this were the only problem, I wouldn’t have much to write about. That’s because we’re cautious with words we’re unsure of and, thus, they don’t create much of an issue for us. It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

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When I write, I hire an editor who is an expert in grammar to review my articles before I post them online. It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder—it’s something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000! The point is, we can all benefit from opportunities to sharpen the saw and minimize our mistakes. Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more correct or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do. There are 20 such words that have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.

Have a look to see which of these commonly confused words throw you off.

1) Accept vs. Except

These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Acceptmeans to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.” To help you remember, note that both except and exclusion begin with ex.

 2) Affect vs. Effect

To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affectmeans to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

 3) Lie vs. Lay

We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you liedown and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lieis something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

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 4) Bring vs. Take

Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.” Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

 5) Ironic vs. Coincidental

A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In his famous short story The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental.If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

6) Imply vs. Infer

To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. Toinfer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. As a general rule, the speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.

 7) Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseousmeans causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, ifyour circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’mnauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

8) Comprise vs. Compose

These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language.Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

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 9)Farther vs. Further

Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.” If you can substitute “more” or “additional,” usefurther.

 10) Fewer vs. Less

Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted; use less when referring to a whole: “You have fewer dollars, but lessmoney.”

This post originally appeared at LinkedIn. Follow the author here.

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39 Reader Comments

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  1. 705359206252980@facebook.com' Learn the Hidden Truth says:

    Follow us to Learn the Hidden Truth !

  2. 1114688225210078@facebook.com' Liam Canavan says:

    Hush we all know context provides more meaning than definition – simple Wittgensteinian language games

  3. 946960262045411@facebook.com' Margarita De Tomas says:

    You Are Good In English Grammar Or Not?. The Most Important Is We Respect, Help, And Be Kind To Others. We Are Not Living In One Country, We Are Living In This World The Planet Earth As A Human..
    God Love And Bless You All..

  4. 978962112163861@facebook.com' Kristy Are says:

    Kristopher Todd Ramer

  5. 10156328297995473@facebook.com' Cesar Ruperti says:

    Renato Gomes

  6. 10205710747992098@facebook.com' Donna Seamon Khoury says:

    Love it…Gloryvee Ortiz

  7. 10205220030599853@facebook.com' Grzegorz Steplewski says:

    You cannot say – “I laid the book on the table.” That’s incorrect. You should say instead – “I have laid the book on the table.”

  8. 1519914505000516@facebook.com' Matilde Henkel says:

    Thanks, very explicit and useful

  9. 961642727215152@facebook.com' Pam Grimstad says:

    And then there are those who, when you explain this type of error to, still insist on using words in the wrong context.

  10. 1639919626272824@facebook.com' Saleh Garba says:

    Take & carry,borrow and lend…..and many others.

  11. 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

    I put the fuckin book on the damn table…yup I wrote that…like a boss!

    • 152511568431358@facebook.com' Dehlia Jane Cook says:

      Fuck yeah! She laid that shit out real quick ??

    • 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

      Lol it’s just with so much going on in this reality at this time; too, to and two..lay, laid and have layin would seem to be the least of anyone’s concern…lol

    • 152511568431358@facebook.com' Dehlia Jane Cook says:

      True, but sometimes that’s just how miserable ppl are it makes them feel better to correct u…but really it just reminds me of my mom and unless you are my mom don’t correct me bc obviously u understood what I meant…lol

    • 152511568431358@facebook.com' Dehlia Jane Cook says:

      Have u seen the meme with all the words wrong and letters jumbled except for the first and last? Tihs is olny an exmalpe… U can still understand what it says… As much as I’m a spelling freak, spelling is irrelevant nowadays, big time ceos can’t spell. College educated or drop out in 8th grade doesn’t seem to matter either.

    • 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

      or paying all my bills and putting food on my table…and even then there is thin ice….lol lol!!! Happy Holiday! I like you?✌?

    • 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

      I have and I could read it clear through lol what I love more is freaking out the cashier after she’s taken my money punched it in the register and I say oh wait I have the correct change….deer in headlight…lol lol

    • 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

      That’s priceless!!

    • 152511568431358@facebook.com' Dehlia Jane Cook says:

      ??? yessss! And they want $15/hr?

      Numbers important, spelling not AS much lol unless ur teaching ur kid how to. Reading a book about bears (beers is how he pronounced it bc ea makes an ee sound together) a beer catches fish…lmao then the fun begins

    • 10206772860374421@facebook.com' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

      Lmao!!

  12. 1639919626272824@facebook.com' Saleh Garba says:

    Take & carry,borrow and lend…..and many others.But pls remember the important rule that a word has no meaning without a sentence in English Language.

  13. 10153606842271131@facebook.com' Faith Lorrainne Klinger says:

    Oh no! I’m guilty of nauseous/nauseated

  14. 10153700856671718@facebook.com' Sonya Beverley Hilton says:

    I think everyone needs to get of their intellectual high horse… there are some people who are dyslexic and getting these words wrong does not define them nor should it make them look or feel silly for using them! It’s the meaning behind what’s written and the intention instead of intellect 🙂

  15. 10208199224559713@facebook.com' Ellie Darcy says:

    Joe Coraz Jane Lowe Corazolla

  16. 10207557328515045@facebook.com' Tess Kelly says:

    That’s is the abbreviation of ‘that is’ not ‘that are’. It seems like everyone, even radio professionals, is now using ‘that’s’ for both, drives me crazy!

  17. 10156436345495647@facebook.com' Sian Colburn says:

    I think 5) Coincidentally and ironic, is particularly a US thing. Not known a Brit to mix the two, hence the song ‘Ironic’ is a bit of a joke here as Alanis Morissette describes a series of coincidences :-/

  18. 10203958733209047@facebook.com' Linda Laspina says:

    Brianna.

  19. 1631232787138861@facebook.com' Luke Wright says:

    We had an Agrreeance lol

  20. 10207892003608406@facebook.com' Kelly Lee Willis-dupuis says:

    Ashleigh Dupuis we were discussing one of these lately

  21. 1519914505000516@facebook.com' Matilde Henkel says:

    Please conjugate the verb, it would be very useful

  22. 10153606842271131@facebook.com' Faith Lorrainne Klinger says:

    It’s a bit insulting to people who have dedicated their lives to the written English language to say who cares. Everyone should care about how they are communicating.

  23. 1666498576951863@facebook.com' Jeff Mitchell says:

    Article falls short.

  24. 111938435827705@facebook.com' Jase Thompson says:

    I just wish that Hollywood actors and US presidents could pronounce the word “Nuclear” properly, instead of saying “Nucular”……

  25. 1006032719459310@facebook.com' Llewellyn Love says:

    Its not always about what you say but about how you say it! Be weary of words that define as they also enslave <3

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