Blog Grammar Rules 3 Commonly Misused Words (And How to Use Them Correctly)

3 Commonly Misused Words (And How to Use Them Correctly)


Have you ever used a word incorrectly?

I have. Many times. It's embarrassing.

Fortunately, you're smarter than me, because you've come to this lovely blog to brush up on your knowledge. So, without further ado, here are three words people often misuse, along with tips on how to use them properly.

  1. [Adverb] + Unique
  2. Acronym Versus Initialism
  3. Who Versus Whom

[Adverb] + Unique

At a family gathering, I told my uncle I was reading a book that was "very unique." He informed me that my statement didn't make sense, because the word "unique" means one of a kind. How can anything be very one of a kind? Thanks, Uncle Lou.

The best alternatives to unique I've heard are distinctive and unusual. They're not quite the same meaning, but they're close. Plus, it's more acceptable to pair adverbs with them.

Acronym Versus Initialism

Full disclosure: I'd never heard of an initialism until listening to the Grammar Girl podcast. Before then, I called every letter abbreviation an acronym.

FBI is not an acronym. CIA is not an acronym. NSA is not an acronym. (Evidently, most American government bureau titles are not acronyms.) They're initialisms!

Confused? It's because acronyms are letter abbreviations pronounced as their own words, while initialisms are abbreviations in which you pronounce every letter individually.

Therefore, since we say "F-B-I" with each of its individual letters, it's actually an initialism, not an acronym. It would only be an acronym if we pronounced it as "feebye." Fortunately, we don't.

Who Versus Whom

And now we come to it. One of the English language's nastiest ploys to make us all feel silly. One should use "who" in the subjective case and "whom" in the objective case.

What does that mean in English, so to speak? It means you use "who" when referring to the person who acts and "whom" when referring to the person who is acted upon. Since we're talking about "who" so much, let's use an example with my favorite band, The Who.

"For [who/whom] did Pete Townshend write Tommy?"

In who-whom quandaries, I find it easiest to start with the verb in the sentence. Here, it's "write." Which person is doing the writing? Pete Townshend. And which person is he writing for? The who/whom of the sentence. Since this person is the one being acted upon, the correct pronoun is whom.

There you have it. No more mistakes!

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Kyle A. Massa

Kyle A. Massa

Speculative Fiction Author

Kyle A. Massa is the author of the short fiction collection Monsters at Dusk and the novel Gerald Barkley Rocks. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and their two cats. Learn more about Kyle and his work at his website,

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