The English language has a lot of sayings. These words and phrases are heard constantly in conversation, but many of us have never actually seen them written down. Over the years, we’ve pictured them in our minds the way we hear them, which is often not very accurate as to what they actually are. Here is a list of common English words and phrases you’re using wrong. How many have you been saying wrong all along?
70 Commonly Words and Phrases You’re Using Wrong
To make this list easier to navigate, we split the words up into categories based on the type of error it is.
Mondegreens are misheard versions of sayings, phrases, and words.
- Wrong: For all intensive purposes
Right: For all intents and purposes
Meaning: For all practical purposes.
An eggcorn is when you reshape the phonetics of the word or phrase without changing the meaning. It is called eggcorn because when said out loud, it sounds just like the word acorn.
- Wrong: Day in age
Right: Day and age
Meaning: In the context of the current times and societal norms.
- Wrong: A doggy dog world
Right: A dog eat dog world
Meaning: The world is everyone for themselves; people will do whatever it takes to get ahead.
- Wrong: Safety-deposit box
Right: Safe-deposit box
Meaning: A locked box used to store valuables.
- Wrong: Undoubtably
Meaning: Without any doubt. Can also use “indubitably”.
- Wrong: Should of
Right: Should have
Likely comes from mishearing the contraction “should’ve”.
Misheard Latin Phrases
Plenty of phrases and words we use in english everyday are actually latin words and phrases. This leads us to mess them up quite frequently, especially because we pronounce them with an english accent.
- Wrong: Excetera
Right: Et cetera
Meaning: “And more” or “and others”.
- Wrong: At nauseum
Right: Ad nauseum
Meaning: “To sickness”, in other words: it was explained at unnecessary length and detail.
These words and phrases are still grammatical mistakes, however they are made so frequently that grammarians have given up and just accepted them for what they are. For all intents and purposes, however, they are still technically wrong.
- Wrong: Butt naked
Right: Buck naked
Meaning: Completely without clothes.
- Wrong: Irregardless
Meaning: Despite that.
- Wrong: Shone
Meaning: Though in the past shone was used for things like shoes and silverware, it is now perfectly acceptable to say that you shined your shoes.
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These words are real words but used incorrectly in a context where the intended meaning is the exact opposite.
- Wrong: Inflammable
Meaning: Inflammable means the exact opposite of what people think that it means. It actually means that this item is combustible and is, well, flammable.
- Wrong: Entitled
Meaning: Entitled refers to someone who thinks they deserve special treatment over others, not the title of a book are other pieces of work.
- Wrong: Infamous
Meaning: Infamous means someone who is notorious, aka well known but not for good reasons. Famous is used for celebrities or people who are well known for their work.
- Wrong: Insure
Meaning: When you insure someone or something, you are paying money to protect against damage, loss, injury, etc. When you ensure someone, you are letting them know that everything will be okay.
- Wrong: Affect
Meaning: Affect is a verb that takes action on something else, effect is a noun.
- Wrong: Poisonous
Meaning: Poison refers to a toxic substance that you ingest. Venom is what comes from creatures and animals when they bite you.
- Wrong: Bemused
Meaning: Bemused is another word for “bewildered” or “confused”, not funny or entertaining.
- Wrong: Principle
Meaning: Principle is a rule or standard. The principal is the leader of a school. You can remember this one because the principal is your pal.
- Wrong: Sit
Meaning: You can’t sit objects down, you can only set them down. People sit, objects are set.
- Wrong: Lay
Meaning: People do not lay down, they lie down. On the opposite end, ducks do not lie eggs, they lay them.
- Wrong: Between
Meaning: You cannot choose between more than two things. Once your decision as three or more options, you now must choose among them.
- Wrong: Infer
Meaning: To imply is to hint at or suggest something, to infer is to read between the lines as to what someone means.
- Wrong: Capitol
Meaning: Capitol refers to a building, capital can mean the city in a country or region where the government sits, upper-case letters, and investment funds.
- Wrong: Discreet
Meaning: Discreet refers to being cautious, discrete refers to being distinct, separate, or individual.
- Wrong: Shone
Meaning: Shown is the past-tense form of “to show”, shone is the past-tense form of the verb “to shine”.
- Wrong: Compliment
Meaning: When you complement something, it means it is a nice addition. When you compliment something it means you have nice things to say about it.
- Wrong: Emigrate
Meaning: You immigrate to a place, you emigrate from a place. So someone who moves to Germany from Spain has emigrated from Spain and immigrated to Germany.
- Wrong: Bring
Meaning: Bring is used when coming home, take is used when going away. So you take money on your vacation and bring home souvenirs.
- Wrong: Further
Meaning: Farther is an actual physical distance, as in she ran farther than him. Further is figurative, as in how much further do you think she can run?
- Wrong: Continuous
Meaning: Continual is something ongoing but stops and starts, continuous is something ongoing that never ends.
- Wrong: Elicit
Meaning: Illicit refers to something that isn’t right or that is illegal. Elicit is when you coax something out of someone.
- Wrong: Home
Meaning: You home in on something, like a target, and you hone a skill, like playing the piano.
- Wrong: Pored
Meaning: Poured refers to what you do with liquids, pored refers to when you study something intently.
- Wrong: Perquisite
Meaning: If something is a prerequisite it is something that you are required to have done prior to doing something else. A perquisite is an allowance or privilege.
- Wrong: Perpetrate
Meaning: Perpetuate is to continue something, perpetrate is to commit something.
- Wrong: Fewer
Meaning: Less is for general statements (he makes less than her), fewer is for items you can actually count (there were fewer people in the other room).
- Wrong: Viable
Meaning: Feasible is an action that is possible, viable is something is capable of survival or will last. A viable business is one that will last, provided you have a feasible launch strategy.
- Wrong: Fleshing out
Right: Flushing out
Meaning: Flushing out is searching for something hard to see or find, fleshing out is adding more to something that is already there.
- Wrong: Prescribe
Meaning: Proscribe is to outlaw someone or something, prescribe is to recommend or command something.
- Wrong: Asset
Meaning: Ascent refers to a climb or liftoff, assent is a verb for “to agree”.
- Wrong: Appraise
Meaning: Apprise means to inform or teach, appraise means to assess the value of something.
- Wrong: Sensual
Meaning: Sensuous refers to the senses but is not so provocative. Sensual also refers to the senses but in a way that is highly sexual.
- Wrong: Reluctant
Meaning: Reticent refers to not wanting to speak, reluctant refers to unwillingness to do everything else. If you are reticent, you are unwilling to speak or share your thoughts.
- Wrong: Regretful
Meaning: Regrettable means poor, unfortunate, or bad. Regretful means to have regret or wish you hadn’t done something.
- Wrong: Canvas
Meaning: Canvass is when you go around collecting people’s thoughts and opinions. Political parties will go canvassing during election periods. Canvas is a durable material.
- Wrong: Disinterested
Meaning: To be disinterested means to have no bias. To be uninterested is to have no interest in something.
- Wrong: Disburse
Meaning: Both refer to distributing things, however, disburse is all about funds and money whereas disperse refers to scattering things, not money.
- Wrong: Disassemble
Meaning: Dissemble is a fancy word for lying, disassemble means to take apart.
- Wrong: Defuse
Meaning: Diffuse refers to something that is not concentrated or means to disperse something over a large area, defuse means to remove the fuse from a bomb so that it doesn’t explode.
- Wrong: Illusion
Meaning: Allusion means referring to something, illusion refers to a misleading image.
- Wrong: Eminent
Meaning: If something is imminent then it is about to happen, if something is eminent then it is important or prominent.
- Wrong: Judicial
Meaning: Judicious means wise, judicial refers to the court of law.
- Wrong: Refurbishing
Meaning: Refurbishing refers to rebuilding or redoing something, like flooring or cabinets. Redecorating is about using non-structural objects to update the look of a place.
- Wrong: Remodelling
Meaning: Remodelling is updating the structural qualities of a place. Restoring is returning a place to its original look.
- Wrong: Emoticon
Meaning: Emojis are the cute little cartoon stickers we use to express emotions, emoticons are the old-school colon + close bracket-type responses.
- Wrong: Libel
Meaning: Slander is oral and Libel is written.
- Wrong: They’re
Meaning: They’re is a contraction for “they are”. There means a place that is not here.
- Wrong: Their
Meaning: Their means ownership, as in “the dog is theirs”.
- Wrong: Your
Meaning: You’re is a contraction for “you are”. Your refers to ownership, as in “the dog is yours”.
- Wrong: Patent
Meaning: Copyright is for expressions of ideas, such as books, songs, poems, etc. Patents are for original inventions.
- Wrong: Alibi
Meaning: An alibi is proof that you were not at the scene of an event, usually a crime. An excuse is a reason you acted a certain way or did something.
- Wrong: It’s
Meaning: It’s is a contraction for “it is”, its is for everything else.
- Wrong: Chronic
Meaning: If you have something that is chronic, it means you have something that is reoccurring. If you have something that is severe, then you have something that is really bad. You can have something that is both severe and chronic.
- Wrong: Everyday
Right: Every day
Meaning: Everyday is an adjective to describe a routine. Every day is an adjective + a noun. You don’t shower everyday, however taking a shower is an everyday event.
- Wrong: Nauseous
Meaning: Nauseous actually means to cause nausea. Nauseated is the word used to describe yourself when you are feeling ill.
These are phrases that don’t fit into the other categories.
- Wrong: All in all
Right: All and all
Meaning: When everything has been taken into consideration.
- Wrong: All for not
Right All for naught
Meaning: It was pointless.
- Wrong: A whole nother
Right: A whole other
Meaning: Something else entirely. “Nother” is not even a real word.
- Wrong: Supposably
Meaning: According to what most/many people think or agree on.
Clearly we’ve taken quite a few liberties with the English language over the years.