Blog Grammar Rules 30 Words You Are Probably Getting Wrong!

30 Words You Are Probably Getting Wrong!

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Published Apr 09, 2019


We all have our pet peeves, but if words are your thing, someone who inadvertently butchers their meaning rubs you the wrong way. You may, however, be guilty of inadvertently butchering words yourself.

Here are 30 words you are probably getting wrong.

  1. The list
  2. Final thoughts

The list

1. Disinterested

You want a disinterested judge assigned to your case because she will be impartial and neutral. You don't want an uninterested judge who couldn’t care less and falls asleep during your testimony.

2. Regardless

In case you didn’t know, "irregardless" is not a real word. Just saying.

3. Literally

Some people literally don’t know what this word means. Literally, in a literal sense, means adhering to fact and free from exaggeration. The word you want when exaggerating an anecdote is virtually.

4. A lot, all right

Be careful to use these as two-word constructions. "Alot" is not a real word. Neither is "alright," although it's so commonly used now that you'd be forgiven for not knowing it!

5. Bemused

So you’re amused, but in a detached way? You’re not bemused then. When people are bemused, they are bewildered or confused. You can be slightly amused by your dog’s antics, but bemused by his frequent urination of your favorite carpet.

6. Travesty

A travesty is "a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation" per Merriam-Webster. Like when someone does a burlesque imitation of something or someone grotesquely. It is not a tragedy, however.

7. Nonplussed

If you think you’re nonplussed by your friend’s assertion he is the best soccer player on the team, you probably feel unimpressed, right? Wrong. Nonplussed means you’re so bewildered or stunned that you don’t know how to act.

8. Alibi

Many people view an alibi as an excuse, which is much more general than the word’s true meaning. An alibi means you have irrefutable proof you were elsewhere.

9. Alternatives

If you have alternatives, you have two options. Period. If you have over two options, they are a range of choices. So, if you have alternative facts, you can either believe Kellyanne Conway’s version or you can believe the truth.

10. Flagrant

If you have a flagrant disregard for authority, this is a serious breach of law. So maybe you have a blatant disregard instead, which means without care or brazen.

11. Nauseous

Nauseous is not the feeling you get when your stomach climbs your throat. It’s whatever caused you to feel nausea or disgust, like the nauseous smell of a rotting corpse. Now that will make you nauseated.

12. Supposably

Are you supposably using this word correctly? If you mean "according to what many believe," you actually need supposedly. If something is supposable, it’s conceivable.

13. Undoubtably

Another "not a real word" snafu. What you really need when your meaning is "without a shadow of a doubt" is undoubtedly or indubitably.

14. Inflammable

Did you buy your children inflammable pajamas? I wouldn’t recommend it. Inflammable means "combustible" as in it can catch on fire. Try finding nonflammable pajamas instead.

15. Entitled

Please stop asking people what the book they’re reading is entitled. The word entitled describes someone who feels or believes they’re better than someone else or deserve special treatment. Instead, ask what their book is titled.

16. Infamous

Many people use infamous for someone who is incredibly famous. But in fact, it means "famous for a negative reason." Thus, most politicians are infamous and movie stars are famous. Although stars can be infamous, too.

17. Poisonous

If something is poisonous, you shouldn’t eat it because it’s toxic and will seriously harm or kill you. However, if you run into a snake, it’s venomous, meaning something that will seriously harm or kill you if it bites or stings you.

18. Between

Let’s keep this a secret between the two of us. Because if there were more than two people or things, you would actually need the word among.

19. Capitol

Washington, DC is the capital of the United States. But Capitol Hill refers to the buildings that make up where Congress meets. So a capitol is a building for legislators.

20. Complement

You can compliment another person on an achievement or their outfit, but you can’t complement them. To complement is to add, enhance, or improve something.

21. Discrete

Too often, people use discrete when they actually mean discreet. Discrete means individual, distinct, or separate. Discreet means careful, cautious, or using good judgment.

22. Elicit

Did you want to get a response from someone? That’s hardly illicit, which means improper. Instead what you’re trying to do is elicit a response, which means to draw or coax out.

23. Continuous

Do you often get interrupted at work and lose your train of thought? If so, your work process is continual, which means something that starts and stops. But if the interruptions never stop, it’s a continuous (something that has no end) battle to stay focused.

24. Further

Further refers to a figurative distance such as "How much further do my sore legs have to go before they fall off?" On the other hand, you may want to know how much farther (literal, physical distance) it is to the finish line, so you can collapse.

25. Viable

Viable is sometimes confused with or used interchangeably with feasible which means an action that is possible. Viable refers to something capable of surviving, which is quite a different proposition altogether.

26. Less

Use less when you refer to quantities because it means "a smaller amount." Use fewer when you’re comparing numbers. For example, use less sugar when you are baking (unless you want to count the sugar granules) but use fewer eggs. If you can count it, use fewer; if you can't count it, use less.

27. Regrettable

Is it regretful or regrettable? They’re not interchangeable. Regretful means you’re full of regret, but if something is regrettable, it’s unfortunate or deplorable. So maybe you’re regretful over your regrettable behavior last weekend.

28. Crescendo

A crescendo is a music piece that should be played with increasing volume. It does not mean a climax. As The Guardian says, "Thus the cliché 'Rise to a crescendo' is nonsense."

29. Dilemma

Similar to alternative, if you’re faced with a dilemma, you have only two options to choose from, neither of which is advantageous. But if you have a problem, you could have many solutions from which to choose.

30. Gourmand

Never call a revered chef a gourmand. He or she is a gourmet of the best food and wine thanks to a refined, discriminating taste. A gourmand, on the other hand, is a glutton who wants all the finest things.

Final thoughts

Believe it or not, this is a small representation of commonly misused words. What are some other ones that drive you nuts? Let us know in the comments below.

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Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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Guilty of using "alot" and "alright!" 😜 Excellent list! Thanks!
According to Merriam-Webster: "Nauseous vs. Nauseated: Usage Guide Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only to mean "causing nausea" and that its later "affected with nausea" meaning is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. Use of nauseous to mean "causing nausea or disgust" is much more often figurative than literal, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. Nauseated is used more widely than nauseous when referring to being affected with nausea."
Good piece! Good choice of words—I see many of them regularly misused. But . . .
Most people misuse the word healthy. An apple isn't healthy, it is healthful.
Great article! Can ProWritingAid be configured to check for these words?
Hi, Kathy! No online dictionary could be found to back up your insistence that "alternative" must refer to two and only two options. Finally, I turned to my battered hardcover dictionary, copyright 1970, which said, "(adj.) being a choice between two (or, less strictly, among more than two) things". So fifty years ago, Webster's allowed the two-and-only-two definition as "strict". I think your insistence must go. Many thanks for your list. Capital and capitol have plagued me for years! I can't come up with a good mnemonic. -Amazing Blair
Nice article, thanks. Pet hate: mixing which and that. "Which" typically requires a comma and represents a change of thought during the sentence. "That" requires no comma and indicates a continuation of the thought. 99% of the time (I just made up that statistic) people should use "that" not "which", and that is the truth :). Examples: This is an article that I can relate to. This is a good article, which no one can deny.
I hate the "should of" construction. It is a mis-hearing of "should've" which of course means "should have".
I can never understand why people put an "s" on the end of anyway
Militate/ mitigate Flaunt/ flout Two pairs of words frequently confused because they sound similar but with very different meanings.
Pet hates are the misuse of fortunate and fortuitous. Also when in tandem is used to mean at the same time when it means one after the other.
Excellent resource. I've posted it on the wall in view of my keyboard for quick visual reference.
"You and I", and "you/me and me/you" are often used incorrectly even from mainstream media.
Hmmm... Alright then. What? No spell-check errors.

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