Commonly Misused Words and Expressions

commonly misused

Aggravate vs Irritate.

The first means “to add to” an already troublesome condition. The second means “to annoy”.

All right.

“Agreed,” or “Go ahead,” or “O.K.” Properly written as two words –> all right.

Allude vs elude

You allude to a book; you elude a pursuer.

Allusion vs illusion

The first means “an indirect reference”; the second means “an unreal
image” or “a false impression.”

Alternate vs Alternative.

The first means every other one in a series; the second, one of two possibilities.
An alternative, although used similar to alternate, connotes a matter of choice that is never present with alternate.

Among vs Between.

When more than two things or persons are involved, among is usually called for. When more than two are involved but each is considered individually, between is preferred.


A device, or shortcut, that damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.


Use expect in the sense of simple expectation.


In the sense of “any person,” not to be written as two words. Any body means “any corpse,” or “any human form,” or “any group.”


Any one means “any single person” or “any single thing.”

As good or better than.

Expressions of this type should be corrected by rearranging the sentences.

As to whether.

Whether is sufficient.

As yet.

Yet nearly always is as good, if not better.


Not appropriate after regard . .. as.


Unnecessary after doubt and help.


Means “am (is, are) able.” Not to be used as a substitute for may.

Care less.

The dismissive “I couldn’t care less” is often used with the shortened “not” mistakenly (and mysteriously) omitted: “I could care less.”


Often unnecessary.
In many cases, the rooms lacked air conditioning.
Many of the rooms lacked air conditioning.


Used indiscriminately by some speakers, much as others use very, in an attempt to intensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing.


Often simply redundant, used from a mere habit of wordiness.

Claim (verb).

With object-noun, means “lay claim to.”
May be used with a dependent clause if this sense is clearly intended: “She claimed that she was the sole heir.” (But even here claimed to be would be better.) Not to be used as
a substitute for declare, maintain, or charge.


To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances between objects regarded as essentially of a different order; to compare with is mainly to point out differences between objects regarded as essentially of the same order.


Literally, “embrace”.


Not followed by as when it means “believe to be.”
When considered means “examined” or “discussed,” it is followed by as.


An intransitive verb used with with. In formal writing, one doesn’t “cope,” one “copes with” something or somebody.


In the sense of now with a verb in the present tense, currently is usually redundant; emphasis is better achieved through a more precise reference to time.


Like strata, phenomena, and media, data is a plural and is best used with a plural verb. The word, however, is slowly gaining acceptance as a singular.


Means “impartial.” Do not confuse it with uninterested, which means “not interested in.”

Due to.

Loosely used for through, because of, or owing to, in adverbial phrases.
In correct use, synonymous with attributable to: “The accident was due to bad weather”; “losses due to preventable fires.”

Each and every one.

Avoid, except in dialogue.


As a noun, means “result”; as a verb, means “to bring about,” “to accomplish” (not to be confused with affect, which means “to influence”).


Use only in the sense of “monstrous wickedness.”
Misleading, if not wrong, when used to express bigness.


An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.


Literally, “and other things”; sometimes loosely used to mean “and other persons.” The phrase is equivalent to and the rest, and so forth. In formal writing, etc. is a misfit. An item important enough to call for etc. is probably important enough to be named.


Use this word only of matters capable of direct verification, not of matters of judgment.


A hackneyed word; the expressions of which it is a part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic.

Farther vs Further.

The two words are commonly interchanged, but there is a distinction worth observing: farther serves best as a distance word, further as a time or quantity word.


Another hackneyed word; like factor, it usually adds nothing to the sentence in which it occurs.


Colloquial in America for arrange, prepare, mend. The usage is well established. But bear in mind that this verb is from figere: “to make firm,” “to place definitely.” These are the preferred meanings of the word.

Flammable vs Inflammable.

The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means “not combustible.”


Limited to what happens by chance. Not to be used for fortunate or lucky.


The colloquial have got for have should not be used in writing. The preferable form of the participle is got, not gotten.


Means “unearned,” or “unwarranted.” The insult seemed gratuitous. ( undeserved)

He is a man who.

A common type of redundant expression.


Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is “nevertheless.” The word usually serves better when not in first position.

Imply. Infer.

Not interchangeable. Something implied is something suggested or indicated, though not expressed. Something inferred is something deduced from evidence at hand.


Avoid by rephrasing.

In regard to.

Often wrongly written in regards to. But as regards is correct, and means the same thing.


The word is a suspicious overstatement for “perceptive.” If it is to be used at all, it should be used for instances of remarkably penetrating vision.


An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction.
Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny.
Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.


Should be regardless.


A transitive verb. Except in slang (“Let it lay”), do not misuse it for the intransitive verb lie. The hen, or the play, lays an egg; the llama lies down. Lay, laid, laid, laying


Not to be misused for let. Leave it stand the way it is ~let it stand the way it is.


Should not be misused for fewer. Less refers to quantity, fewer to number. ”


Not to be used for the conjunction as. Like governs nouns and pronouns; before phrases and clauses the equivalent word is as.


A noun. As a verb, prefer lend.
Lend me your ears. The loan of your ears


A bankrupt adjective. Choose another, or rephrase.

Nauseous vs Nauseated.

The first means “sickening to contemplate”; the second means “sick at the stomach.”


A shaggy, all-purpose word, to be used sparingly in formal composition. “Nice is most useful in the sense of “precise” or “delicate”: “a nice distinction.”


Often used wrongly for or after negative expressions.

Offputting. vs Ongoing.

Ongoing is a mix of “continuing” and “active” and is usually superfluous.
Offputting might mean “objectionable,” “disconcerting,” “distasteful.” Select instead a word whose meaning is clear.


In the sense of “a person,” not to be followed by his or her.
One must watch his step.
One must watch one’s step.
One of the most. Avoid this feeble formula. “One of the most exciting developments of modem science is … ”


Not always interchangeable with partly. Best used in the sense of “to a certain degree,” when speaking of a condition or state: ‘Tm partially resigned to it.”
Partly carries the idea of a part as distinct from the whole usually a physical object.


A word with many meanings. (The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, gives nine.) The people is a political term, not to be confused with the public. From the people comes political support or opposition; from the public comes artistic appreciation or commercial patronage.


Has two meanings: “in a short while” and “currently.” Because of this ambiguity it is best restricted to the first meaning: “She’ll be here presently”


Avoid, in writing, the use of so as an intensifier: “so good”; “so warm”; “so delightful.”


Not to be used as a mere substitute for say, remark. Restrict it to the sense of “express fully or clearly”: “He refused to state his objections.”


Any sentence with than (to express comparison) should be examined to make sure no essential words are missing.
I’m probably closer to my mother than my father.

Thanking you in advance.

This sounds as if the writer meant, “It will not be worth my while to write to you again.” In making your request, write ‘Will you please,” or “I shall be obliged.”

That vs Which.

That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.
The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one.)
The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)

The foreseeable future.

A cliché, and a fuzzy one. How much of the future is foreseeable? Ten minutes? Ten
years? Any of it? By whom is it foreseeable? Seers? Experts? Everybody?


This showy noun, suggestive of power, hinting of sex, is the darling of executives, politicos, and speechwriters.

Tortuous. vs Torturous.

A winding road is tortuous, a painful ordeal is torturous. Both words carry the idea of
“twist,” the twist having been a form of torture.


Not to be used in the sense of “happen,” “come to pass.”


Takes the infinitive: “try to mend it,” not “try and mend it.”


Means “without like or equal.” Hence, there can be no degrees of uniqueness.
It was the most unique coffee maker on the market.


Prefer use.


Sometimes means “word for word” and in this sense may refer to something expressed in writing. Oral agreement is more precise than verbal agreement.


Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves.
While. Avoid the indiscriminate use of this word for and, but, and although.

Worth while.

Overworked as a term of vague approval and (with not) of disapproval. Strictly applicable only to actions: “Is it worth while to telegraph?” His books are not worthwhile.
The adjective worthwhile (one word) is acceptable but emaciated. Use a stronger word.


Commonly used to express habitual or repeated action. (“He would get up early and prepare his own breakfast before he went to work.”) But when the idea of habit or repetition is expressed, in such phrases as once a year, every day, each Sunday, the past tense, without would, is usually sufficient, and, from its brevity, more emphatic.

Source: The Elements of Style by W. Strunk, 2000 (4th edition)