Our language is a wonderful tool. We use it to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings. Writers in particular love to seek out words that add nuance and layers to their work. But in doing so, they can sometimes pick commonly misused words.

It can be tempting to pop that unusual word into your blog or article and in the context, it might look right. But get it wrong and to someone who knows what means it will jump off the page and slap them in the face.

More to the point, it won’t make you look like the talented wordsmith you were hoping it would. In fact, it will do the exact opposite. That one misused word will ruin everything else you’ve written.

It will also stain your reputation. That reader is unlikely to visit any other articles or blogs you write in the future. And all because of some commonly misused words.

The problem is, and I include myself in this group, writers are not good with others critiquing their work. That’s why I always use spellcheck and a grammar check before I upload anything to the internet. I also have an editor with eyes like a hawk who can spot a comma out of place from a mile off.

But let’s get back to those words that commonly get misused. What kinds are we talking about? Here are 13 examples:

13 Commonly Misused Words

Accept or Except

These words sound almost the same but are different. You can accept something: “She accepted his proposal of marriage.” Except is to exclude: “I like every cake except lemon drizzle.”

Affect or Effect

Affect is to influence: “His speech really affected me.” Effect means to put into effect: “The village effected changes after a vote.”

Compliment or Complement

A compliment as an expression of admiration: “I got a big compliment about my new hairstyle today.” Complement completes or makes up a whole: “The cologne he wore was an ideal complement to his outfit.”

Comprise or Compose

Comprise is to include, compose means to make up, but both are to do with parts and the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “The United States of America is comprised of fifty states.”  When you use the parts first, you use compose: “Fifty states compose the United States of America.”

Disinterested or Uninterested

Disinterested does not mean uninterested. It means unbiased or impartial: “The disinterested mediator chaired our discussions.” Uninterested is indifferent or not interested: “They were uninterested in talking to us.”

Enormity or Enormous

Enormity does not mean enormous. Enormity means extreme evil: “The enormity of the psychopath’s crimes would never be forgotten.” Enormous means extremely large: “She had an enormous amount of homework to do.”

Farther or Further

Farther means a physical distance travelled: “I have much farther to go.” Further refers to the extent of an action or situation: “We must speak further on this topic.”

Fewer or Less

This is a nice easy one to remember; use fewer when you are writing about individual items that you can count and less when referring to a whole: “She had fewer clothes which meant there was less in her wardrobe.”

Flaunt or Flout

Flaunt means to show off: “She flaunted her figure.” Flout means to disobey: “She flouted the rules.”

i.e. / e.g.

I often have to think which abbreviation is appropriate to use when I’m writing. Here are the rules:

Use e.g. when you want to show examples: “She had worked for several notable charity organisations (e.g., The Red Cross, Oxfam, Greenpeace).”

Use i.e. when you want to say in other words: “I had a lovely day out with my grandchildren (i.e., spending all day at the park and getting thoroughly tired out!)”

An easy way to remember which is the correct one to use is that e.g. starts with ‘e for example’ and i.e. starts with ‘i for in other words’.

Imply or Infer

To imply is to suggest without actually saying it outright. “He implied he knew where the treasure was buried.”

To infer is to draw a conclusion from what was implied. “She inferred from what he implied that he knew where the treasure was buried.” Generally, the speaker implies and the listener infers.

Staunch or Stanch

Staunch does not mean to stop a flow. Staunch means loyal, faithful, or constant: “Her staunch supporters were by her side when she won the election.”

Stanch means to stop the flow of something: “The increased police presence on the streets stopped the stanch of the recent crime wave.”

Who’s or Whose

I always struggle with this one. Remember, who’s is contracted from who is: Who’s going to help me with this difficult job?” Whose is the possessive form of who. So, as the following are:

  • I – Me/Mine
  • You – Your/Yours
  • She – Her/Hers
  • He – His
  • They – Their/Theirs
  • Us – Our/Ours
  • Who – Whose

An example of whose: Whose job is it to help me with this difficult task?”

There are many more examples of commonly misused words that can belie our intelligence. Which ones do you struggle with? Let us know in the comments section below!

References:

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk
  2. https://www.linkedin.com
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

Copyright © 2012-2020 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Charles Damian

    I think the example for stanch is completely wrong. ‘stopped the stanch of the crime wave’? “We must stanch out this crime wave!” would be correct. To stop the stanch of the crime wave would be to support or increase the crime wave.

    1. Avatar
      Geordie

      I have never seen the word stanch until today. I looked it up in the Oxford Canadian dictionary where it is defined simply as a variation of staunch.

  2. Avatar
    Elisabeth

    Sorry Charles, but your example is also incorrect. I believe you are thinking of “..stamp out this crime wave”.

    Stanch means to stop the flow of something: “They held a clean towel on the wound to stanch the blood” would be correct.

  3. Avatar
    Elisabeth

    Idea or Ideal

    Idea: a formulated thought or opinion.
    “Starting her own business seemed like a good idea at the time”
    Ideal: satisfying one’s conception of what is perfect; most suitable.
    “the swimming pool is ideal for a quick dip”

  4. Avatar
    Janet

    I often see it’s and its misused. Writers forget that it’s is a contraction of it is, not the possessive form of it. This, of course, differs from other nouns used in the possessive. So it’s not proper to write: its fine; rather, it’s proper to write: its outcome is fine with me.

  5. Avatar
    Julia

    I would refute your singular use of the word enormity … it means much more than just evil happenings,it means great size in other contexts also.

    Also stanchions is not an English word… were you meaning staunch? As in staunch in a wound?

  6. Avatar
    Richard jPecot

    can you explain the uses of may vs might?

  7. Avatar
    Christine

    Stanchion is an English word.
    It is a noun. A stanchion is a vertical post to hold a barrier. Such as on a boat to stop you falling off .

  8. Avatar
    Margaret French

    I don’t like hearing people use “irregardless” instead of “regardless.”

  9. Avatar
    lisa

    whoever chose that particular image — of “things” flying off of a tongue, and out of a mouth, and into the air, at this particular time — might benefit from some constructive feedback.

    1. Avatar
      Anna LeMind, B.A.

      this is ironic because the article was published exactly one year ago. who could imagine what we would be going through today!

  10. Avatar
    Shelly

    Lay and lie

    1. Avatar
      Tania Breard

      A hen lays an egg. I lie down for a nap.

  11. Avatar
    UM

    Comprise or Compose
    I think there’s an error here.
    Should have been Comprise or Consist of.
    Parts comprise a whole, while a whole consists of parts.
    Fifty states comprise the United States…, while the United States… consists of fifty states.

  12. Avatar
    St. John

    Not bad, though most of these are quite obvious. Regardless, this is a good and a useful subject to write about, since it is a well known plight: grammar is dead.

    Write about punctuation rules next PLEASE 🙂

  13. Avatar
    Nic

    What about the misuse of “augurs” well and “all goes” well?

  14. Avatar
    Judith

    We don’t typically use a word to define itself: “Effect means to put into effect…” I found these helpful, but not always spot on.

  15. Avatar
    Rachel Clem

    One that always gets me, is when someone refers to themselves as being sarcastic but they are being facetious….
    There is a difference

  16. Avatar
    Pacomango

    I understand what Charles Damien was saying. In the example given for using the word stanch the sentence was, “The increased police presence on the streets stopped the stanch of the recent crime wave.” If by definition the word stanch means “to stop the flow of something” then the example sentence is redundant. The police presence stopped the “stopping the flow” of the crime wave. It would better to say, “The increased police presence on the streets stanched the recent crime wave,” however there are so many better words to use here than stanched. “Holding a clean towel against a wound to stanch the blood” is a better example of using the word.

  17. Avatar
    Waynell Hoberer

    I don’t have a problem saying this word but can’t stand it when I hear it spoken wrong.To me it makes the person sound ignorant. The word I’m talking about is anyway and they pronounce it anyways.

  18. Avatar
    ES

    I teach English as a second language and grammar is definitely not dead with my students! My Asian students are exceptional at it! I love AnnaLeMind’s comment.

  19. Avatar
    Leona

    One of the most common errors I hear, is when people confuse partake and participate

  20. Avatar
    Theresa Peal

    When do you use the word being and been?

  21. Avatar
    Kevin Albright

    It drives me nuts when people use Myself instead of me in sentences because they feel that it sounds more intelligent or formal. “if you have any questions, contact Frank or myself”. Only I can do something to myself, everyone else does something to me.

Leave a Reply