Be Aware of the Most Misused English Words

the most misused english words

There are many misused words in the English language. Through repetition, the misuse becomes more widespread. Whether you’re trying to write a great essay or report, nail an interview or simply impress your readers, proper use of the English language is essential.

Check out this mega-list of commonly misused words:

Laying vs. Lying
Incorrect use: I was laying on the beach.
Correct use: I was lying on the beach.

Unthaw vs. Thaw
To thaw means to unfreeze something. So unthaw, technically means to freeze.

Hysterical vs. Hilarious
Hysterical is to be uncontrollably emotional. Hilarious is funny.

Anarchy is a political term that means the absence of government. It’s often used in the place of “crazy” or “chaotic”.

Momentarily vs. Shortly
Momentarily means something has the span of a moment.
Incorrect use: I will be with you momentarily.
Correct use: I will be with you shortly.

Anniversary means once per year, “annus” coming from the Latin for “year”. Therefore it’s impossible to celebrate a six-month anniversary.

Different than vs. Different from
Incorrect use: Apples are different than oranges.
Correct use: Apples are different from oranges.

Electrocuted vs. Shocked
Electrocute means to be killed or to kill someone with an electric shock. If you received an electric shock and didn’t die, then you were shocked, not electrocuted.

Literally is often used incorrectly and somehow has become a form of hyperbole. “You’re literally killing me,” means that someone is actually killing you instead of what you probably mean which is that they’re hurting you or causing you extreme stress.

Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Disinterested means that something holds no value or importance for you. Uninterested means that it doesn’t hold your attention.

Espresso vs. Expresso
“Espresso” is the correct spelling of the strong coffee drink.

Could of vs. Could have
Incorrect use: I could of gone to the store for you.
Correct use: I could have gone to the store for you.

Travesty vs. Tragedy
Travesty actually doesn’t mean tragic at all. It means absurd or ridiculous. It can also be used as a verb “travestying” which means to make a mockery of somebody or something. Ex: The play was banned for travestying the ruling political party.

Capital vs. Capitol
Capital is a the city where the seat of government is located. Capitol is the name of the building where the government members assemble.

Bemused vs. Amused
Bemused means to be confused whereas amused means to be entertained.

Affect vs. Effect
Affect means something has been influenced by something else. Ex: She’s really been affected by losing her job. Effect means something is a result of something else. Ex: Losing her job has had a negative effect on her.

Complement vs. Compliment
A complement is something that makes something better or more perfect. Ex: A glass of pinot noir can complement a steak dinner. A compliment is something that expresses admiration. Ex: She complimented her on her well-written article.

This word doesn’t actually exist. Those who use it mean to use the word “regardless”.

Peruse vs. Skim
Peruse means to examine thoroughly. Ex: She perused the report for hours, looking for evidence to back up her suspicions. It’s often mistaken to mean skim. Ex: He skimmed the book in a matter of minutes which caused him to fail the test.

Many people erroneously tag an “s” onto the ends of these words. Correct use: I walked toward the building./ I didn’t want to go to the party anyway./ I’ll see you afterward.

Supposed to
The “d” is often erroneously left off the end of this word.

For all intents and purposes
A lot of people mistake “intents and” for “intensive” as in “for all intensive purposes.” The correct form is “for all intents and purposes.”

Accept vs. Except
Accept means to receive or to agree to something. Ex: I accepted the job offer. Except means that something is excluded. Ex: I would like to try on all of the dresses except for that one.

Emigrate vs. Immigrate
When someone emigrates, they are leaving their home country. Ex: I emigrated from the United States to Brazil. When someone immigrates they are moving to another country. Ex: Many Mexicans immigrate to the United States.

Then vs. Than
Than is used to compare two words. Ex: I am taller than my brother.
Then is used in reference to time. Ex: I didn’t want to see him then, but I’m ready to now.

There, Their and They’re
These three are often confused.
There is used to determine place. Ex: Put the books down over there.
Their is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Their car is over there.
They’re is a contraction of they + are. Ex: They’re walking to their car over there.

Your vs. You’re
These two suffer the same fate as there, their and they’re.
Your is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Your dog is chasing my cat.
You’re is a contraction of you + are. Ex: You’re a very interesting person.

Who’s vs. Whose
Yet another possessive vs. contraction issue.
Whose is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Whose bicycle is that?
Who’s is a contraction of who + is. Ex: Who’s going to the show?

All right vs. Alright
All right is the correct spelling. “Alright” is an incorrect spelling of “all right”.

Beside vs. Besides
Beside means next to. Ex: Come and sit beside me on the couch. Besides means “anyway” or “also”. Ex: Besides, the only reason he wants that job is for the corner office.

Cite vs. Site
Cite means to quote a source. Ex: She cited the leading expert on this subject.
Site is a location. Ex: The site of the shooting has been roped off by the authorities.