13 Words in English You’re Probably Misusing… and How to Fix Them!
You think you know how to use the word “good,” right?
It was probably one of the first words you learned in English.
If you are like most people, you probably assume this is a simple, straightforward word. Easy.
But think again.
“Good” is actually a very commonly misused word, among not only English learners, but also native English speakers.
How can that be?
Well, English is a tricky language, as you probably already know. There are so many pitfalls in grammar and spelling that even seemingly easy words like “good” can cause mix-ups.
Of course, making mistakes is unavoidable when you first learn a language, and ultimately, noticing your mistakes helps you improve your skills. Learning from your mishaps is a winning mindset.
But there are just some words out there that cause more mistakes than others. In this post, we will help you notice some of the words you might be using wrong and show you how to fix them.
Including the word “good.”
Why Are Some Words Commonly Misused?
Unfortunately for language learners, it is very easy to misuse words in English. Here are some of the most common mistakes to look for as you are learning and using English vocabulary:
- Misunderstanding a word’s meaning. Most misused words fall into this category. Speakers think a word means one thing, but it means something different.
This mishap often occurs with words that sound like other words—for example, some people use “adverse” when they mean “averse,” as you will see later in this post.
- Mistaking plural nouns for singular nouns. Some irregular plural nouns do not end with “s,” which makes them look like they are in the singular form. Consequently, some English learners use them with singular verbs (e.g. “is” instead of “are”).
For instance, you should say “the criteria are high,” but you will often hear people say “the criteria is high.” For future reference, you should use “criterion” (the singular form of the noun) in the second sentence.
- Confusing different types of words that have the same spellings. Some nouns and verbs share the same spelling but have entirely different meanings. For example, the word “object” as a verb means “to disagree; express disapproval; protest.” The word “object” as a noun, however, refers to an item or a thing.
Incorrect: I objected when she took my phone without asking. But she did not listen to my object and took it again the next day.
Correct: I objected when she took my phone without asking. But she did not listen to my objection and took it again the next day.
- Swapping an adjective for an adverb, or vice versa. Adjectives and adverbs can have similar meanings, but are used in different grammatical constructions. For instance, you could say “I ran quickly,” but not “I ran quick,” because “quick” is an adjective and cannot be used to modify a verb (adjectives modify nouns).
The most famous example of this mishap is mixing up the words “well” and “good.” “Well” is an adverb, so it describes a verb. “Good,” however, is an adjective, which accompanies a noun. It is quite common to hear people say “I feel good today,” although the correct usage would be “I feel well today.”
How to Notice and Fix Misused Words
Hopefully you are now more aware of common English vocabulary and grammar mix-ups.
However, it does not guarantee that you will always use the correct word in the correct way. That is because English, like any language, is always changing. Generation after generation, words can change their meanings, or new words and phrases (such as “emoji” or “post-truth”) might appear. And remember, even native speakers make mistakes—and sometimes those mistakes eventually become accepted as correct!
It can all be quite overwhelming for English learners. The key is to be aware of grammar rules and common mistakes, but also to keep up to date with English as it is used today. The following tips will help you stay on track:
- Be critical on the internet. English is the common language of the web. There are countless conversations among non-native English speakers of all levels, and misused words are not rare. You can find everything on the internet, from misspelled words to poor grammar construction to out-of-place idioms.
Plus, because anyone can post (publish) their ideas online, the quality of writing across the internet varies a great deal. Just because something is there does not mean it is correct. Always be critical when you read and converse in online forums! Which brings us to our next point…
- Keep a good dictionary nearby. When in doubt, look up words in a decent dictionary. A reference book from a publisher such as Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Merriam-Webster is a good anchor when you are sailing in the sea of online social interactions.
You do not have to carry a big and heavy dictionary around all the time; check out these awesome dictionary apps for easy access anytime, anywhere.
- Learn from a credible source. Pay attention to how words are used in high-quality books, essays and articles. For news and reports, you can use the The New Yorker, The Washington Post or The Guardian.
These are publications with dedicated editors that you can rely on for formal and correct English (though there are occasional mistakes, of course!). There is a lot more out there! Here are some more great reading resources.
- Use spelling and grammar check tools when writing. Everyone has their blind spots. Maybe there are words whose meanings you just cannot get quite right. Or maybe there are word pairs you keep mixing up. It is hard to spot these issues yourself, but you do not always have to.
When you write using Microsoft Word or other word processing programs, turn on the spelling and grammar check feature at all times. If a mistake happens a few times, that could be one of your blind spots. You need to remind yourself to be conscientious the next time you use that word in speaking or writing.
Remember that spell check is not always perfect. Use it primarily as a tool to help you be aware of your own potential pitfalls (difficulties; obstacles).
- Make a personal list of misused words. Say you spot a few misused words after two weeks of using the grammar checker on your word processing application. That is a great start! Write them down to start a personal list of words you need to be careful not to use incorrectly. Do the same thing with words that you have doubts about when reading. Keep the list going as you improve your English.
If you do not notice these words and actively try to correct them, you will not overcome them!
Commonly Misused Words in English: Why You Are Saying Them Wrong and How to Change
Correct usage: to mean “unfavorable” or “hostile.”
How it is commonly misused: mistaken for “averse,” which means “having a dislike of something” or “having an opposition to something.”
Many drugs have adverse side effects; therefore, some people are averse to taking drugs when they have minor symptoms.
Correct usage: to mean “to be forced to do something.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “to willingly do something.”
He was compelled to apologize after stealing his brother’s toys; his parents said he would be punished if he did not.
Correct usage: as a plural noun, taking a plural verb and plural modifiers (e.g. “many,” “a few,” “these”). The singular form is “datum.”
How it is commonly misused: as a singular mass noun. (However, note that this is a common usage of the word, even among native English speakers, and is acceptable in everyday conversation.)
You cannot draw a conclusion from one single datum when many of the other data indicate the opposite.
4. Effect (vs. Affect)
Correct usage: to mean “impact” or “result” as a noun.
How it is commonly misused: to mean “to influence” as a verb (the correct verb is “affect”).
Jack London’s fiction had a big effect on my writing style. His books affect the way I approach a topic, especially if it has a nature theme.
5. Hone (vs. Home In)
Correct usage: to mean “sharpen.”
How it is commonly misused: mistaken for “home in,” which means “to target or aim” or “to move towards a goal.”
As she hones her writing skills, she wishes to home in on a successful career as a copywriter.
Correct usage: to mean “completing; filling or matching with something else.”
How it is commonly misused: mistaken for “complimentary,” an adjective that can mean “flattering; praise-worthy” or “free; no cost.”
She got a sun hat as a complimentary gift from the beach resort. Her outfit now has several complementary accessories.
Correct usage: to mean “the work or business of a professional (such as a doctor or a lawyer)” as a noun, and “to perform an activity regularly” as a verb.
How it is commonly misused: mixed up with “practise,” which is used outside the U.S. “Practise” is the British spelling of the verb “practice” (in American English) and should never be used as a noun.
As if having a law practice is not busy enough, he practices speaking Mandarin every day.
Correct usage: to mean “a grotesque parody; a distortion or a complete misrepresentation.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “a tragedy.”
Much of the hatred in the world comes from the travesty of the true purpose of religions, created to benefit the ruling class.
Correct usage: to mean “naive; facile; oversimplified.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “simple; not complicated” or even “pleasingly simple.”
His simplistic answer suggested that he did not study the material thoroughly, even though it covered a very simple topic.
Correct usage: to mean “having to do with words, either written or spoken.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “spoken; oral.”
In the game, you are only allowed to use visual cues, not verbal ones.
11. All together
Correct usage: to mean “all in one place.”
How it is commonly misused: mistaken for “altogether,” which means “completely.”
It is great to be all together as a family during the holidays. We are going to have an altogether amazing time.
Correct usage: to mean “carried.” This is the past participle of the verb “to bear.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “having started life” (as in “born”).
The loss of her childhood dog is one of the great sorrows she has borne.
Correct usage: to mean “unbiased.”
How it is commonly misused: to mean “uninterested” (“not interested”).
The people on the jury need to be disinterested in order to ensure justice.
Keep an eye out for those misused words in your writing and reading, and you will be on the path to clear and correct English in no time!