7 Most Commonly Misused Words in English
Whether it’s a typo or learning error, English learners frequently use words in speech and writing that sound right (to them) but are actually wrong.
But don’t worry, even native English speakers make mistakes.
Even though we all learn how to spell and use words in the correct context when we’re young, we tend to forget some of it over time.
Just think about it… how many times have you heard someone say they feel “nauseous”? Probably hundreds of times. Yes, so what is the problem? If they meant to say they have the ability “to cause nausea”, I’d have no problem with it, but the word they were looking for is “nauseated”.
Such cases of misused words in English happen all the time. It’s how people that want to sound smart end up sounding dumb. Sometimes they fail at their purpose of using a particular word, as in the example above, but sometimes it’s the spelling of a word when they write it, such as “your” vs. “you’re”.
Whatever the case may be, we’re going to solve the drama around so many English words today. Without further ado, here’s a list of the most commonly misused words in English and how to correctly use them.
Commonly Misused Words in English
1. Nauseous vs. Nauseated
Here, we have to pay attention to adjective differences regarding people and objects. If something causes nausea, it is labeled as “nauseous” and makes people feel “nauseated”.
Pro Tip: If you’re having a hard time getting used to saying “nauseated”, you can simply say you feel “dizzy” or you “don’t feel well” at all.
2. Conversate vs. Converse
If only I had a dollar for every time I heard this one… but, I understand why the mix-up occurs. The confusion among learners regarding this verb lies in its actual noun form, which is “conversation”. As a consequence, learners feel more natural to say “to conversate” instead of “to converse”.
However, the correct version of this verb is “to converse”, remember that, and it means “to have or engage in a conversation”. On the other hand, “to conversate” means… absolutely nothing. The word doesn’t even exist in the English language.
3. Irregardless vs. Regardless
There’s no easier way for me to say this, so I’ll just go ahead and say it… the word “irregardless” is just plain stupid. Even though it’s thrown around so much, the word breaks one of the fundamental rules in the English language, which is why it’s not only a commonly misused word but it “cannot” be used.
You see, the word “regardless” (the correct version) already contains the negative suffix “-less” and means “without regard”. So, if we were to add another negative prefix to that word such as “ir-”, it would contain a double negative and mean “without without regard”.
To give you another reason why this is completely wrong, it’s because the English language doesn’t allow double negatives to occur in a single sentence or word.
4. Compelled vs. Motivated
When people say that someone is “compelled” to do something, they usually mean that someone wants to do it because they feel like they need to do it based on current circumstances. However, to be “compelled” means to be “forced” to do something in a rather direct and explicit way.
It’s two completely different things – intrinsic motivation vs. external force and pressure.
5. Lie vs. Lay
Oh, man… this used to be my biggest nightmare back in my high school days. It was mostly due to the fact that the verb “to lie” isn’t actually just one verb, it’s two different ones that are both written and pronounced the same but they have different meanings. The verb “to lay” is just there to complicate things even further.
So, let’s uncomplicate them and take a look at all the forms and meanings of these three verbs so you never have to misuse them again.
to lie (lies, lay, has lain) = to recline, lean back or be in a horizontal, resting position
to lie (lies, lied, has lied) = to not tell the truth
to lay (lays, laid, has laid) = to put down gently or carefully
Note: Both versions of the verb “to lie” are intransitive and require no object. However, “to lay” is a transitive verb hence is always followed by an object it refers to.
6. Affect vs. Effect
Even though it’s just one letter that makes the difference here, you wouldn’t believe how many learners often misuse the verb “affect” and, in turn, use the noun “effect”. That’s exactly the difference between the two. One is a verb (“affect”), the other is a noun (“effect”). You just cannot use one instead of the other.
In other words, you can only have an “effect” on something once you “affect” it, for example:
My clothes are wet because it’s raining.
The rain affected my clothes.
The rain had an effect on my clothes.
7. Fewer vs. Less
It can take a little while to master their differences between these two adjectives. “Fewer” refers to countable nouns (or separate items that you can count) while “less” refers to uncountable nouns (or things we usually look at as a whole). Here are some examples:
I ate fewer apples than yesterday. (correct)
I ate less apples than yesterday. (wrong)
I have less money than yesterday. (correct)
I have fewer money than yesterday. (wrong)
Bonus: English Homophones
Okay, I just had to throw this in here, as this segment is about words that are the biggest headache ever to a Grammar Nazi, especially when someone decides to write them publicly and use them with pride. In case you were wondering, I’m one of those people.
Okay, back to the topic… Homophones are words that “sound” the same but don’t “look” the same, such as: “right” and “wright”, “altar” and “alter”, “duel” and “dual”, etc. There are many homophone subtypes but we don’t care about that right now. We care about the words, the ones you use and the ones you should use instead because you’re supposed to.
Let’s take a look at some homophones that social media is filled with and their true meanings, the only ones you should actually know.
here = in this place
hear = to perceive sound with your ears
your = belonging to you
you’re = contraction of “you are”
there = in that place
their = belonging to them
they’re = contraction of “they are”
should’ve (not should of) = contraction of “should have”
could’ve (not could of) = contraction of “could have”
Note: All of these are most commonly misused words in writing, as learners generally mix their spelling up quite a bit. Please, don’t be that person who attracts Grammar Nazis because of this and learn these differences by heart.
So, after going through today’s list, how many words have you been misusing?
Whatever your answer is, there’s one important lesson to be learned today: our vocabulary size doesn’t determine how well we can use it. Sometimes, we make mistakes where we least expect them.
Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.