- Education and Science
Commonly Misused Words in the English Language
Misused Words: Is it Bear or Bare...?
Has anybody ever snapped at you for misusing a word? It's not nice to nitpick, but the truth is, you'll sound awfully funny if you use the wrong word. (I always want to giggle when I see "bear with me...")
If you're ever in doubt as to whether you're using the right word, you can always consult this list. I'll add to it as I think of more!
Accept vs. Except
Incorrect: "I except your gift."
Correct: "I accept your gift."
Accept means to receive something. Except means to exclude something.
Example: "I accept everything you're offering, except for the fruitcake."
Advice vs. Advise
Incorrect: "I didn't ask for your advise."
Correct: "I didn't ask for your advice."
Advise is a verb. Advice is a noun. You can advise someone, but you can't advice him.
Affect vs. Effect
Incorrect: "The rain has a bad affect on my mood."
Correct: "The rain has a bad effect on my mood."
The one that starts with an a, affect, is a verb. This is when something is ACTING upon something else. For example, "We don't know how the rising cost of pizza will affect the economy."
Effect is a noun. It's passive, not doing anything in particular; it's just there. For example, "The rising cost of pizza didn't have much effect."
Tip for remembering the difference: A is for Action! Action = Affect.
All Right vs. Alright
Sorry, but alright is incorrect. It's correctly spelled as two words: All right.
However, it could be argued that alright is appropriate for dialogue. It's closer to the way it sounds. Also, nobody should beat you up for writing alright in an online forum or chat room.
Alternately vs. Alternatively
Incorrect: "Alternately, we could buy a jet instead of a helicopter."
Correct: "Alternatively, we could buy a jet instead of a helicopter."
Alternatively is a word you use when you refer to an option, an alternative.
Alternately is where you do one thing after another in turn.
A Lot vs. A lot
A lot is correct. A lot, on the other hand, is NOT a real word.
Sorry, I can't even bring myself to defend a lot from a creative writing standpoint.
Assume vs. As Soon
Incorrect: "I'd just assume kiss a wookie."
Correct: "I'd just as soon kiss a wookie."
To assume means you're either making a supposition or taking possession of something. Example: "I assume she's kissing a wookie right now. By the way, I'm now assuming authority over the Falcon."
Bare vs. Bear
Incorrect: "Bare with me."
Correct: "Bear with me."
Hardly anyone chooses the wrong word if they're talking about grizzlies or teddy bears. But remember, the word bear has multiple meanings: It can refer to the animal, or it can mean carrying a burden. When you ask someone to bear with you, that means you're asking them to be patient.
Bare, on the other hand, means uncovered or naked. So when you write "Bare with me," you're really asking your readers to get naked. How embarrassing.
Bazaar vs. Bizarre
Incorrect: "There's something bazaar about that duck."
Correct: "There's something bizarre about that duck."
A bazaar is a marketplace.
Bizarre is another word to describe something that looks weird or outlandish.
Breach vs. Breech
Incorrect: "Failing to remove your shoes in a Japanese home is a serious breech of etiquette."
Correct: "Failing to remove your shoes in a Japanese home is a serious breach of etiquette."
Breech refers to your bottom, or to something that covers your bottom, i.e. a pair of pants.
Breach refers to an opening, a gap, or a vulnerability. It can also refer to infraction of some law or custom.
You could have a breach in your breeches, but not the other way around.
Censor vs. Censure
Incorrect: "The president was censored."
Correct: "The president was censured."
Censure is a strong, often formal reprimand.
Censor describes when something is suppressed or banned. It might also mean editing out things that people find offensive, such as swearing or racial slurs. Classic books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn have been censored by schools.
Cheap vs. Cheep
Incorrect: "I bought this parrot for a cheep price."
Correct: "I bought this parrot for a cheap price."
Cheep is a chirp or a peeping noise, something you'd expect small birds to do.
Cheap means something that doesn't cost much. It can have negative meanings too, like miserly, shabby, of no value, etc.
Cite vs. Sight vs. Site
Incorrect: "You're a site for sore eyes."
Correct: "You're a sight for sore eyes."
Sight refers to either your vision or to something you see. For example, seeing the sights around town.
Site refers to a physical location, such as a house or a neighborhood. There are construction sites, for examples.
Cite means to quote something, usually something of authority. Citing can also be a case of mentioning supporting facts. Christians, for example, frequently cite the Bible as the foundation for their beliefs.
Climactic vs. Climatic
Incorrect: "Kind of anti-climatic."
Correct: "Kind of anti-climactic."
Climactic is the word you use to refer to a climax, the culmination, the high point.
Climatic refers to the climate, or weather conditions.
Coach vs. Couch
Incorrect: "Cinderella's fairy godmother turned the pumpkin into a couch."
Correct: "Cinderella's fairy godmother turned the pumpkin into a coach."
A couch is a large piece of furniture you lounge around on when you watch TV.
A coach is a horse-drawn carriage.
Compliment vs. Complement
Incorrect: "I complemented her on her good cooking."
Correct: "I complimented her on her good cooking."
When you pay someone a compliment, you are expressing admiration for something. You are complimenting someone when you tell him he gave a great speech, or when you tell him you like his Mickey Mouse watch.
However, a complement is something that enhances or completes something else. A nice tie complements a suit. A dessert of pumpkin pie complements a great turkey dinner.
Conceited vs. Concerted
Incorrect: "We have to make a conceited effort."
Correct: "We have to make a concerted effort."
Conceited means arrogant, full of yourself.
Concerted means doing something through cooperation. Many people working together for a common goal is a concerted effort.
Confidant vs. Confident
Incorrect: "I'm confidant this will work."
Correct: "I'm confident this will work."
You use the word confident when you're trying to say that you have a strong belief in something, or when you're feeling self-assured.
A confidant, on the other hand, is someone you confide in. You tell your confidant about your secrets and personal issues.
You just want to make sure you're confident that your confidant will keep your secrets.
Copyright vs. Copyright
Incorrect: "He writes for a living. I think he's a copyrighter."
Correct: "He writes for a living. I think he's a copywriter."
Copyright refers to legalities and exclusive rights. If something is copyrighted, that means you can't copy it or plagiarize it unless you want to risk getting in legal trouble.
A copywriter is someone who writes copy. Copy is written material, usually an ad of some kind.
Dessert vs. Desert
Incorrect: "We had chocolate cake for desert."
Correct: "We had chocolate cake for dessert."
Dessert refers to the scrumptious pies, cakes, and ice cream we get to eat if we finish dinner.
A desert is a dry, barren, often hot and sandy place.
It's easy to get the two mixed up, so here's how I remember the difference: Dessert comes AFTER dinner, so it's second. The word dessert has TWO S's.
E.G. vs. I.E.
The difference between E.G. and I.E. is subtle, but let's look at their root meanings:
E.G. stands for the Latin exempli gratia, which means "for example." So you might use it like this: "I love many different kinds of desserts, e.g. apple pie or chocolate cake."
I.E. is Latin for id est, which stands for "that is" or "in other words." So you might use it like this: "My favorite dessert is pie, i.e. apple pie."
Exercise vs. Exorcise
Incorrect: "We must exercise the demon!"
Correct: "We must exorcise the demon!"
Exercise is what you do on a treadmill. If you exercise a demon, it probably means you're taking him for a nice little jog.
Exorcise is when you banish or expel demons and ghosts, usually through a religious ceremony.
Fair vs. Fare
Incorrect: "Whoever said life was fare?"
Correct: "Whoever said life was fair?"
Fair refers to being free from bias or injustice. It can also mean pale or light-colored.
Fare refers to the price of a ticket for transportation (such as airfare), or it can refer to how something worked or played out. For example, "He fared well as a pirate."
Flair vs. Flare
Incorrect: "The dress had some flare."
Correct: "The dress had some flair."
Flair means a special talent or aptitude. It can also refer to elegance or style. You might have a flair for playing the piano, for example, or maybe that snappy tie gives your suit a certain flair.
Flare is something that fire does when it gets stronger. You would also use this word to describe something that starts suddenly and violently, such as a bad argument.
Flaunt vs. Flout
Incorrect: "They flaunted the rules."
Correct: "They flouted the rules."
When you flaunt something, that means you're showing it off. Like a little girl parading around and flaunting her doll to everyone she meets.
Flout is very different. It means showing disdain or scorn for something. While there are very few cases where people flaunt the rules, I'm sure you can name many incidents where someone flouted the rules.
Foul vs. Fowl
Incorrect: "I suspect fowl play."
Correct: "I suspect foul play."
Foul means something very bad, filthy, or disgusting--like a foul stench. It can also refer to ill intent or dishonesty.
Fowl is a chicken. If you detect "fowl play," that must mean the chickens are up to something.
Hear vs. Here
Incorrect: "Here, here!"
Correct: "Hear, hear!"
Here is a location; it refers to wherever we happen to be right now.
Hear refers to one of your five senses, the ability to recognize sound.
People confuse these words. The issue mostly comes up with the phrase "Hear, hear!," which is meant to call attention to a speaker's words. It also implies fervent agreement. It evolved from phrases like "Hear him!" and "Hear ye!"
Its vs. It's
Incorrect: "Its mine."
Correct: "It's mine."
Its is possessive. It's is a contraction of it is. Whenever you see that apostrophe, always translate it's to it is.
Sound out the sentence in your head. If sounds dumb to say it is in the sentence, then it's is incorrect.
Lay vs. Lie
Incorrect: "Now lie me down to sleep."
Correct: "Now lay me down to sleep."
Lay is used when something is being acted upon. Lie is something you do without anyone or anything doing something to you. Example: "I decided to lie down on the floor."
Here's where things get more confusing: The past tense of lie is lay. The past tense of lay is laid. Examples:
"I laid down the piggy bank."
"The piggy bank lay there yesterday."
Even I have a hard time keeping these words straight. Mixing up lay and laid isn't likely to get you barbecued by grouchy grammarians.
Just remember that laid is a misspelling, which means it's flat out wrong no matter what!
Loose vs. Lose
Incorrect: "I just know I'm going to loose this race."
Correct: "I just know I'm going to lose this race."
You can't use these spellings interchangeably: Not only are the meanings subtly different, they also SOUND different. Lose has more of a Z sound, while loose has more of a hiss to it.
Me vs. I
Incorrect: "Bob, Bill and me are going to the lake."
Correct: "Bob, Bill and I are going to the lake."
The official explanation of I vs. me makes my head hurt, so just follow this trick to figure out if "I" or "me" is correct in the sentence: Rephrase the sentence.
Let's take "Me and Bill are going to the lake" as an example. It's incorrect. Why? Get rid of Bill from this sentence for a minute. Does "Me is going to the lake" sound right? Of course not! "Me" does not agree with the structure of the sentence. That's why "Bill and I are going to the lake" is correct.
What about "Bob loves fried chicken more than I?" You're saying that you don't love fried chicken as much as Bob does.
However, if you were to say, "Bob loves fried chicken more than me," you're implying that Bob loves fried chicken more than he loves you. Ouch.
Moot vs. Mute
Incorrect: "The point is mute."
Correct: "The point is moot."
When you say something is mute, that means it can't speak. Moot, on the other hand, refers to something that is debatable or has little practical value.
Naval vs. Navel
Incorrect: "It was a great navel battle."
Correct: "It was a great naval battle."
Naval refers to ships, especially warships, or anything having to do with the navy.
Navel refers to the part of your body that collects lint.
No One vs. No one
Incorrect: "No one visits my website."
Correct: "No one visits my website."
Noone is not a word. Unless it's a result of someone typing super fast, this one baffles me. By mushing no one together like this, you're creating a word that would be pronounced "noon-eh" or "noon."
Peak vs. Peek vs. Pique
Let's begin by going over what these three words mean:
Peak means the highest point of something, such as the peak of a mountain.
Peek means to take a quick, often sneaky look at something.
Pique means to excite interest, but it can also mean being irritated.
Example: "He piqued my interest in the princess who lives on top of the mountain, so I decided to climb to the peak and have a peek for myself."
Per Say vs. Per Se
Incorrect: "I didn't mean that, persay."
Correct: "I didn't mean that, per se."
Per se is Latin for "in and of itself."
Persay is the way it sounds, but it's not the correct way to spell it.
Raise vs. Rise
Incorrect: "That noisy cheerleader could rise the dead!"
Correct: "That noisy cheerleader could raise the dead!"
Raise is the word you use when something is being acted upon. Rise is something you do on your own without any assistance.
If the dead come to life on their own, it would be correct to say that the dead are rising from the graves.
However, if some necromancer (or cheerleader) brought the dead to life, it would be correct to say that she raised the dead.
By the way, the past tense of rise is rose.
Seam vs. Seem
Incorrect: "It just seams wrong."
Correct: "It just seems wrong."
A seam is where two pieces of cloth are stitched together. It can also refer to a long, thin mark.
Seem refers to how something looks or appears. "It seems the elephant put on a tutu this morning."
Sense vs. Since
Incorrect: "I haven't had a phone sense 1995."
Correct: "I haven't had a phone since 1995."
Sense refers to your senses, such as smell, taste, sight, and touch. It can also mean detecting something: "I sense you're unhappy with me for not owning a phone."
Since refers to a time or past event. Specifically, from then till now. It can also be a substitute for the word because. "Since I don't have a phone, you might as well write to me more often."
Taut vs. Tout
Incorrect: "Hold it tout..."
Correct: "Hold it taut..."
Tout means to promote or seek support for something.
Taut means tight or strained.
Then vs. Than
Incorrect: "I thought you knew better then that."
Correct: "I thought you knew better than that."
People get these mixed up all the time, driving the poor grammarians batty. These words should not be used interchangeably. Here's the difference:
Then refers to a point in time, usually after something has happened or some condition is met. "First we mix the flour and sugar, then we add the butter."
Than is used for comparing things, such as length, height, weight, etc. "I think this dog weighs more than me."
There vs. They're vs. Their
People get these mixed up all the time. Let's look at these words in their correct form:
"The book is over there."
"That's their book."
"They're getting the book."
Remember, there is possessive. You're talking about who owns what.
They're is a contraction. If the sentence sounds fine when you reword it with they are, you know you're using the right pronoun.
There refers to where someone or something is.
Vain vs. Vane vs. Vein
Incorrect: "I need to adjust the weather vane."
Correct: "I need to adjust the weather vane."
Vain, or vanity, is when you have an excessive amount of pride in yourself.
A vane refers to a weather vane, or any similar device with spinning blades that's powered by wind, steam, water, etc.
Veins are those things that transport blood throughout your body.
Wary vs. Weary
Just remember that wary is the word to describe suspicion or caution. Weary, on the other hand, is the state of being tired or worn-out.
Weather vs. Whether
Incorrect: "I don't care weather you like it or not."
Correct: "I don't care whether you like it or not."
Weather refers to the state of the atmosphere, whether it's raining, snowing, windy, cold, etc.
Whether is a choice between two or more options.
Who vs. Which vs. That
Incorrect: "I saw a boy that was playing a video game."
Correct: "I saw a boy who was playing a video game."
You would use that when you're referring to a thing, although it's acceptable to use it when you're referring to a group of people. Use who when you're referring to a person.
Which is a little more tricky, but it's generally used for a secondary thought or clause. For example, "The video game, which was bloody and violent, was popular with kids."
Whose vs. Who's
Incorrect: "Whose the angry octopus guy?"
Correct: "Who's the angry octopus guy?"
Whose is possessive. We're talking about something that belongs to someone else. Sometimes it can also refer to which rather than whom. For example, you might ask, "Whose angry octopus is this?"
Who's is a contraction. We could transform it into who is or who has. For example, the sentences "Who's feeding the angry squid?" and "Who is feeding the angry squid?" are both correct.
Yay vs. Yea vs. Yeah
Incorrect: "How do you vote, yay or nay?"
Correct: "How do you vote, yea or nay?"
Yea is an archaic word that is rarely used any more. It rhymes with "nay," and the only time you'd really want to use it is when you're voting. Or when you want to say "yea verily" or something like that.
Yeah is that casual version of "yes" that we use all the time.
Yay is an exclamation of joy or excitement.
Your vs. You're
Incorrect: "This land is you're land."
Correct: "This land is your land."
Your is possessive. There is no apostrophe in this possessive pronoun when you add an "s" at the end. Yours is correct, your's is wrong.
You're is a contraction of "you are." If you ever get confused with your and you're, try rewording the sentence with you are. If you are totally changes the meaning of the sentence and makes it sound stupid (like "This is you are book"), you know you should be using your instead.
Clipart from the Wizard of Draws
The cartoons you see on this lens were created by Jeff Bucchino, "The Wizard of Draws." If you'd like to see more of his work, be sure to visit his website: Free Cartoon Clipart by the Wizard of Draws!
Did you learn something new? Do you know of a commonly misused word you'd like to see added to this list? Comments are welcome!