The Most Commonly Misused Words in the English Language
Maybe English class was the bane of your existence in high school. However, we’ll try to make your grammar lesson a little less of a bitter pill to swallow. In the professional world, you will make a donkey of yourself if you start dropping any of these bombs, whether it be during a meeting, training session, or promotional event.
Many words are often butchered in every day speech and especially writing. It’s unfair for high-quality pens to have to suffer due to poor language. That being said, put on your thinking caps and start refining your skills now.
You’ll be a better writer and speaker before you know it by being aware of these top 10 misused words in English.
Ironic vs. Coincidental
Unfortunately, Alanis Morissette didn’t know what she was talking about when she sang, “it’s like rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you’ve already paid.” It’s probably safe to say that “isn’t it coincidental?” didn’t have had the same ring to it. At any rate, don’t be like Alanis and make sure you keep these words straight.
Utilize vs. Use
People often use “utilize” synonymously with “use.” However, there’s an important distinction between the two words. Utilize is when you’re using something in a way other than its intended purpose. Be sure to use these words correctly or people will utilize a straw as a makeshift blow dart to attack you with paper wads.
Comprise vs. Compose
There’s a reason Mozart and Beethoven were called composers and not comprisers. Each of their compositions consisted of many different notes and melodies. It might seem like a lot to wrap your head around, but remember “compose” is typically reserved for works of art whereas “comprise” is a more all-encompassing term.
Accept vs. Except
While there are exceptions to every rule, you won’t really find that here. If you accept that, you’re destined to find success using these words correctly. You can easily get away with thinking the wrong version of either word here during speeches as they sound the same. However, it becomes more important when you’re writing, especially if it’s an important speech for a public figure.
Ensure vs. Insure
The one other curveball for these oft confused homophones would be the word “assure.” Though it sounds different, you’ll sometimes hear people say, “I can ensure you, I didn’t burn the turkey.” If they are not assuring us, it’s probably safe to say they are the culprit responsible for ruining Thanksgiving dinner. This little mention aside, the words “ensure” and “insure” mean something completely different.
Adverse vs. Averse
It is pretty unfair to have two words that are so close in meaning and are only one letter off. Perhaps the easiest way to remember the distinction between the two is that “adverse” is typically used to describe inanimate objects. “Averse,” on the other hand, is more commonly used for people. Still, nine times out of ten you’ll get away with using either word.
Travesty vs. Tragedy
Both words are pretty dark and ominous in context. Almost as if they could be used in a Stephen King novel at any given time. The important thing to remember is that “travesty” is a subpar copy of something much greater. It’s a harsh way to say nothing compares to the original. In most cases, “tragedy” is reserved for catastrophic and horrible moments or events.
Proceed vs. Precede
Maybe this little trick will help you remember the difference between these two words: “You’re a pro at continuing work after you’ve fallen asleep.” Associate this phrase with the “pro” in “proceed” to remember that this word means to continue or go forward, especially after a brief pause. “Precede” refers to a certain order and means to come before everything else.
Bemused vs. Amused
The whole world will be extremely amused if you use “bemused” in the wrong way. The last thing you want to do is say this word in complete seriousness during a conversation only to use it wrong and land flat on your face. Save yourself the trouble by making sure you know the difference between “amused” and “bemused.”
Elicit vs. Illicit
Of course, it isn’t illegal to use words wrong when you’re talking or writing. However, if we could make it an illicit activity (especially for those pompous types who never think they’re wrong) we would gladly do so. These words are completely different parts of speech, even though they sound exactly the same.
You’re a smart business professional who has worked hard every step of the way. The last thing you want is for one grammar slipup or wrong use of a word to downplay your intelligence. It can happen to the best of us, even with all those years of English classes under our belts. After you finish that presentation or write a comprehensive email to the head honcho, make sure you pay attention to the details. At the very least, the Grammar Police won’t have to come and arrest you!