Bad writing habitsBasics of writingConfusing words

Commonly misused words, once again

From Rick:

From the link below I copied what I felt were the most common mistakes that I see in writing and added notes and examples and the word “nock” to the list.

The sentences I added show examples (preceded by >>) of how many people misuse the words in question. My comments are preceded by —.


Adverse: Unfavorable or harmful; commonly confused with “averse,” which means disinclined.

>>Jackson wasn’t averse to going on a mission where he could use his “skills” to eliminate the enemy.

Appraise: To evaluate the value of something; commonly confused with “apprise,” which means “to inform.”

>>Keep me apprised of the situation.

As far as: The same; commonly confused with the phrase “as for,” which means “with regard to.”

>>As for your idea, I don’t think it’s feasible. (NOT: As far as your idea…)

Bemused: Bewildered; commonly confused with “amused,” which means entertained.

Cliché: A noun; commonly misused as an adjective. The adjective is “clichéd.”

>>INCORRECT: Saying that variety is the spice of life is so cliché. (SHOULD BE: …is so clichéd.)

Criteria: A plural word; commonly misused as a singular word. The singular is “criterion.”

—While “criterion” is the singular form, but it is acceptable to use “criteria” when the word is being used loosely, such as in connection with other criteria. I found the following example online at “And the answer to the criteria question may be ‘Some are, and some are not.’”

Data: A plural word; commonly used as a singular noun.

—It bemuses me (and I do mean “bewilders” not “amuses”) that anyone still makes a point of “data” being plural, with the assumption that we should use “datum.” A number of words and grammatical points that came to us from Latin have been changed to reflect modern usage rather than the original source. We generally say “the data points to this conclusion” when the supposedly grammatically correct sentence is “the data point to this conclusion.” Saying “datum” when referring to a single piece of information would be considered borderline pretentious today. Using “data” as a plural-only form has been out of fashion for the past 2–3 decades. Now, only the most entrenched individuals will clock you for saying “the data is convincing.”

Dichotomy: A division between two things; commonly confused with “a difference.”

Disinterested: Unbiased; commonly confused with “uninterested.”

Effect: An influence. To effect: To put something into effect.

Affect: To influence or fake.

—“Effect” can be a noun (an effect) or a verb (to effect a change, as in to bring about a change). “Affect” is only a verb (to influence)

Enormity: Extremely bad or morally wrong; commonly confused with “enormous.”

Flaunt: To show off; commonly confused with “flout,” which means “to openly disregard.”

Flounder: To struggle helplessly; commonly confused with “founder,” which means to fill with water and sink.

Fortuitous: To happen by chance; commonly confused with “fortunate.”

Fulsome: Excessively flattering; commonly misused to mean “full or copious.”

Homogeneous: Pronounced “home-genius.” The word is commonly misspelled as “homogenous.”

Hone: Sharpen or refine; commonly misused in the phrase “home in on,” which means to move toward a goal or target.

Hot button: An emotionally or politically charged issue; commonly confused with “hot topic.”

Hung: Suspended; commonly misused to mean “suspended from the neck until dead.”

>>The painting hung on the wall.
>>The criminal was hanged.

Intern (verb): To detain or imprison; commonly confused with “inter,” which means to bury a body.

>>He was interned in the prison for twenty years before he died and was interred.

Ironic: To happen in a way that’s opposite to expectations; commonly misused to mean “unfortunate.”

Irregardless: Not a word, but commonly confused with “regardless.”

—Not true. “Irregardless” has gained a degree of acceptance in informal situations and some dictionaries label it as “nonstandard” as opposed to incorrect.

Lie (as in “lies, lay, has lain”): To recline.

Lay: (as in “lays, laid, has laid”): To set down.

Lie: (as in “lies, lied, has lied”): To not tell the truth; to fib.

—All too often I see someone writing “I lied down on the bed.”

Literally: A fact; commonly confused with “figuratively,” or metaphorically.

Luxuriant: Rich or lush; commonly confused with “luxurious.”

>>Amid the luxuriant vegetation of the rainforest Reynolds had built the most luxurious home I had ever seen.

Meretricious: To appear attractive but lack value or sincerity; commonly confused with “meritorious,” which means to deserve praise.

Mitigate: Alleviate; commonly confused with “militate,” which means to be “a powerful or conclusive factor in preventing.”

New Age: Spiritualistic and holistic; commonly misused to mean modern or futuristic.

Nock: (an arrow), to place the arrow in a bow; not “knock” or “notch”

Noisome: Smelly; commonly misused to mean noisy.”

Nonplussed: Surprised or confused; commonly misused to mean bored.

Opportunism: Exploiting opportunities; commonly misused to mean creating opportunities.

Parameter: A variable; commonly misused to mean a condition or limit.

Phenomena: A plural noun; commonly misused as a mass noun.

—Like “data” the plural form “phenomena” has been used in the singular, but somewhat less acceptance. Until it changes over completely, you’re better off using “phenomenon” to refer to a singular event.

Politically correct: Inoffensive or appropriate; commonly misused to mean fashionable.

Practicable: To be able to put together successfully; commonly confused with “practical.”

Proscribe: To condemn; commonly confused with “prescribe,” which means to recommend.

Protagonist: An active or lead character; commonly confused with “proponent.”

Refute: To prove something false; commonly misused to mean “to allege to be false.”

—If we say “he refuted our evidence” we mean he proved it wrong, not that he merely claimed it was wrong.

Reticent: Restrained, or shy; commonly confused with “reluctant.”

>>Although a reticent individual, Margaret readily accepted the job she was assigned.

Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk: All of these words are used in the past participle and are commonly misused in the past tense.

—Sorry, you hardcore individuals and purists, but in case you missed it, language is not static. It is dynamic and changes as the culture changes, and we live in dynamic times for sure. All four of these forms are considered acceptable as simple past tense (“Honey, I shrunk the kids”), just as “drank” is acceptable as the past participle (have drank) of “drink” (instead of “drunk”), and the dictionaries list these as alternatives, not as “nonstandard.”

Simplistic: Overly simple; commonly misused to mean “pleasantly simple.”

Staunch: Loyal; commonly confused with “stanch,” which means to stop the flow.

Tortuous: Twisting; commonly confused with “torturous.”

Unexceptionable: Not open to objection; commonly confused with “unexceptional,” which means ordinary.

Untenable: Not sustainable; commonly misused to mean painful or unbearable.

Urban legend: A false and widely circulated story; commonly misused to mean “someone who is legendary in a city.”

>>INCORRECT: He is an urban legend.

Verbal: In linguistic form; commonly confused with “spoken.”


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