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Words That Are Most Misused in the English Language

Updated on November 25, 2021
Laura Schneider profile image

Laura is a technical writer. She enjoys playing the piano, traveling, fine art, and making jewelry.

A Cacophony of Errors

How Clean is Your Grammar?
How Clean is Your Grammar? | Source

Commonly Misused Words in Formal Writing

Many words are commonly misused in the English language, either through ignorance, expediency, or misspelling. Here are a few of them. Note: This is in reference to FORMAL, professional communications, such as in business, not to tweets or other informal communications.


This dangerous word should NEVER be used because it means BOTH "to catch fire" and "not to catch fire"! Use "flammable" and "nonflammable" instead to avoid the dangerous ambiguity!

"All natural" compared with "safe"

Plenty of "all natural" things can harm you and are not safe at all, for example: lead, radon, arsenic, poison ivy, cacti, some sharks, poisonous plants and mushrooms, certain snakes and bugs, lions, tigers, and bears: oh my!

thru or through

The word "thru" is simply a shortening of the word "through", and should not be used in formal writing. It will confuse people not familiar with colloquial English, such as people for whom English is not their first language or people from another English-speaking culture that doesn't use this unnecessary shortcut. If you use this often, set you AutoCorrect in Word to automatically correct it for you. Note that this advice applies to most of the words in this list.

alot and a lot and allot

In this case "alot" is simply always wrong. It is a misspelling of “a lot” (many) or allot (to distribute). People unfamiliar with English cannot look it up in a dictionary and have the meaning clarified, and adding a space between "a" and "lot" really doesn't take up much room in one's writings. You might as well educate yourself and your family now. Note that the word "allot" means to divide up and pass out something, such as food or money.

til or till instead of until or 'til

This is another case of laziness or ignorance. The word "til" does not exist. It is an English colloquialism (In other words, a localized common misuse of a word) for "until". Since they are both small words, you might as well just spell out "until" and make everyone happy. While you're at it, add the word "til" to the misspelling list in Microsoft Word so that it is flagged as a misspelling and add it (til-->until) to the AutoCorrect list. Make the software help you look good! That's what it's for!

Xmas instead of Christmas

This is a major holiday in some countries, including the U.S. Is it really necessary to abbreviate it this way? Should "Christ" really be replaced by an "X"? Although there is religious and popular precedent for allowing this abbreviation, as an editor I would still mark it incorrect because it is an abbreviation, just like I would mark any other unnecessary abbreviation as incorrect in formal writing.

hole and whole

This one is confusing to many. A "hole", for example, would exist in the ground where your new tree was about to be planted. It is an absence of something. That's an easy way to remember that "hole" is missing the "w" of "whole". "Whole" means complete and entire--"I ate the whole box of cookies." or "The whole jackpot went to Chris." In other words, these two are somewhat opposites of each other: a "hole" is an absence of something, where as a "whole" is a completeness of something. Remove the "w" if you mean "hole", use the "w" if you mean "whole."

refridgerator or refrigerator and fridge or frige

This is a simple spelling error. There is no "d" in refrigerator, and "frige" would typically be pronounced "frij" using typical English pronunciation. Just spell out the whole word when writing formally and say the whole word when speaking even semi-formally.

desert and dessert

This is a common spelling challenge for most of us because both words are valid English with different meanings. A desert (one “s”) is dry, and some are hot and sandy, whereas a dessert (two “s”es) is something that you might want a second helping of while dining. (“Seconds”=2 “s”es in "dessert" is an easy way to remember this difference in terms.)

Internet or internet

Why is “Internet” capitalized? I do not know either, because it is a thing and not the NAME of a thing, therefore it doesn’t pass the capitalization rule: capitalize the names of persons, places, and things. Nevertheless, the current editorial rule is to capitalize “Internet”. Note, however, that an "intranet", which is an internal company/group’s "Internet", is NOT capitalized. They’re just trying to confuse us, I think. I look forward to the day when Internet is no longer capitalized.

Interstate roadway or interstate roadway

Again, this is a capitalization thing. “Interstate” describes a type of automobile roadway, it is not the NAME of the roadway. Nevertheless, again we must capitalize it according to the standards: Interstate roadway. However, note that plenty of roads can run "inter-state", but that "inter-state roadway" is not capitalized.

harras or harass

This is a common spelling error. If you pick on someone mercilessly, you “harass” them (one “r”). In contrast, if you embarrass someone you need to use two “r”s, just to be confusing I think.

capitallize or capitalize

This is another common spelling error, one that I make too often. There should be only one “l” in “capitalize”, even though it might seem like you should use two. I remember this one by thinking, “capital-ize”. Again, set your Auto-correct in Microsoft(R) Word(R) to fix this automatically for you.

thx or thanks

If you're legitimately, honestly thankful, take a moment to type out the extra three characters in “thanks”, even if you’re texting someone. Emily Post would approve.

How Does Your Grammar Measure Up?

How many of these errors do you commonly make?

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"She corrects my grammar, too, but it all just sounds like barking to me."
"She corrects my grammar, too, but it all just sounds like barking to me." | Source

About the Author

Information about the author, a list of her complete works on HubPages, and a means of contacting her are available over on Laura Schneider's profile page.

© 2013 Laura Schneider


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