Common Misused Words and Phrases

When I am reading; posts in the forums of EE, local American newspapers, and even some magazines I often see words and phrases misused. This non standard usage is very distracting and sometimes confusing to the reader, therefore all of us must be aware of this pitfall and earnestly attempt to avoid these common mistakes. Please remember that just because you have seen something in print does not necessarily make that usage correct. Further one must be vigilant to avoid writing some non standard words which may sound the same in the spoken language as the correct written words. An Example of this type of mistake is QUOTED from a local United States Newspaper, with the incorrect words in caps and correct words in parentheses; “ The bank robbery suspects left THERE (their) checkbook on the teller’s counter, which proved THERE (their) COMPLIANCE (complicity) in the ELICIT (illicit) actions.” I personally think the robbers were almost as stupid as the paper’s reporter and editors.

The following list, with explanations and examples, will help you in determining which words to use if you want to be correct in your writing and speaking, and you will be using a more correct form of English than many “Professional” writers. An added benefit of learning the differences in these words will be a marked increase in your vocabulary.

Homonyms – Words that sound the same

Accept – Except: Accept means to receive and Except means excluding or to exclude.

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  • I will ACCEPT all the results EXCEPT the last one.

Affect – Effect: Affect means to influence while Effect means result or to bring about.

  • The drug caused adverse side EFFECTS, and did not AFFECT the infection.

Allusion – Illusion: Allusion is an indirect reference and Illusion is a misconception or misunderstanding.

  • In my speech I made an ALLUSION to the Presidents speech. The magician’s ILLUSION was complete in that he appeared to make an elephant disappear.

Bare – Bear: Bear has many meanings including the animal, but bare has only one meaning and that is without clothing or covering. Never write “Bare with me”, as you are inviting someone to get naked with you.

  • Please BEAR with me while I take a picture of the BARE ground.

Capital – Capitol: Capital refers to a city or wealth while Capitol refers to a building where lawmakers meet.

  • The Senate meets in the CAPITOL building in the CAPITAL city of Washington.

Climactic – Climatic: Climactic is derived from climax meaning the high point and Climatic is derived from climate and refers to long term weather conditions.

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  • The drastic CLIMACTIC changes caused the end of the CLIMATIC period of the dinosaurs and their extinction.

Elicit – Illicit:  Elicit means to bring about or to evoke. Illicit means unlawful.

  • During questioning the detective was unable to ELICIT information regarding the ILLICIT actives of the suspect.

Emigrate from – Immigrate to: Emigrate means to leave (Exit) a country or region and Immigrate (Into) means to enter another country with the intention to reside there.

  • In 1907 my grandfather EMIGRATED from Italy and IMMIGRATED to the United States.

Principal – Principle: Principle means a basic truth, law or belief, while Principal is a person or a sum of money.

  • As a matter of PRINCIPLE I could not lie to the High School PRINCIPAL.

Than – Then: Than is a conjunction used in comparisons, and Then is an adverb denoting time. (Then tells when)

  • I told my girlfriend that I preferred hamburgers rather THAN pizza, THEN she ordered pizza anyway.

There – Their – They’re: There specifies a place, or is an expletive, There is a possessive pronoun and They’re is a contraction of they are, and normally is not used in informal English.

  • THEIR keys are right THERE on the table while THEY’RE going crazy looking for them.

To – Too – Two: To is a preposition, Too is an adverb, and Two is a number.

  • When you play golf, TOO many of your shots hook TO the left, but the last TWO were better.

Your – You’re: Your is a possessive pronoun and You’re is a contraction of you are.
YOU’RE going to get hurt if you don’t move YOUR foot inside the golf cart.

Other Problem Phrases and Words

Supposed to – Suppose to is incorrect keep the “d”
Used to – Use to is incorrect again keep the “d”
Toward – Not Towards there is no “s”
Anyway – Never Anyways again there is no “s”
Couldn’t care less – To say I could care less is wrong when you mean you do not care at all.
Chest of drawers – Never chester drawers, Chester is a man’s name.
Going to – Never use Gonna, it is a non standard word.
Want to – Never use Wanna, it is again a non standard word.

For more misused words and some good laughs see: Commonly Misused Words in the English Language.

Sobre o Autor: Bill Slayman tem 66 anos é americano e mora em Pensacola, Florida, USA. Ele atuou no exército americano e hoje está aposentado. Suas paixões são: andar de Harley Davidson, motocicletas, fotografia e qualquer coisa brasileira. Bill é um dos maiores colaboradores do EE.


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Mostrar 30 comentários

  • 27/04/11  
    Otávio diz: 1

    Another excellent article, Congratulations Bill!

    Now I’d like to make a suggestion for your next article: Why don’t you explain the use of linking words (therefore,besides,though….), their meanings and the common mistakes.

    Thank you very much!

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      Thank you for your kind words, and your suggestion.


  • 28/04/11  
    Caroline diz: 2

    I simply love your articles, Bill! The way you write is completely sound and inspiring!

    Please, keep up the good work!


    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      You are entirely too kind, thank you.


  • 28/04/11  
    Aline diz: 3

    Excelente tópico !

    Porém, constatei um erro na explicação “There – Their – They’re: There specifies a place, or is an expletive, There is a possessive pronoun and They’re is a contraction of they are, and normally is not used in informal English.”

    Acredito que deve ter confundido na digitação…


    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      I am gratified that you got something from my ramblings.


  • 28/04/11  
    Didier diz: 4

    Well , I do not agree 100% with the use of the word “never” talking about wanna or gonna. It´s a little bit like the use of the word “ain´t”.
    There´s a big difference between daily spoken English , business English and written English. You have it in all the languages and obviously also in Portuguese. We say here for instance: “To indo para o Guarujá” but in fact we should say “Estou indo para o Guarujá” .The same way I would not say to an American student:” Never” use “to indo” instead of estou. We learn phrasal words, expressions etc the same way foreigners have to learn ours. So if you want to speak like a native , speak like people talk during the day but learn where you can or cannot use it. Beside MSN and others, use traditional English I would say.

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      While you do have a valid point, I feel that we should learn the formal form of any language and attempt to use it at all times, that way you will never be embarassed, or thought of as being uneducated or not caring. This holds especially true when conversing with a native speaker, where one could possibly be thought of as being too familiar.

      I stand by my original statements is so far as what I said above, however when with close friends of equal standing one may follow the saying of “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”


  • 28/04/11  
    Gabriel Hamdan diz: 5

    Hey, great hints!
    But so what about “I could care less”… It sticks in my mind a Fall Out Boy song which says: “Merry Christmas, I could care less,” just like that. Is that such an informal way or something?
    IDK, maybe a different meaning.

    Take care,

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      If you create a scale of one to ten with one being the least possible “care” and ten being the most possible “care”, then “I could care less” would be somewhere between two and ten, maybe a five or six, while “I couldn’t care less” would be one.

      I hope this helps.


  • 28/04/11  
    João B. L. Ghizoni diz: 6

    Thanks once again, Bill, for one more nice post.

    But I must say I was kind of puzzled by that semicolon in the first sentence.

    As to “toward”, well, do you agree with me that you might have pointed out that what you said is “American English”, whereas “towards” is okay in “British English”? Oh, and it is okay to omit the letter d in “used to” when the sentence is interrogative or negative, right?

    All in all, your text is very good, since you put together a nice list of pairs of words often confused. Thanks.

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      In American English the proper use is “toward” and “used to”. I can not comment as to the British use of these words, especially since British English is a foreign language to me. ;-)


  • 28/04/11  
    Claudia diz: 7

    Hello all,
    I think there is a typo in this sentence: There – Their – They’re: There specifies a place, or is an expletive, There is a possessive pronoun and They’re is a contraction of they are, and normally is not used in informal English.

    I think it should be: There – Their – They’re: There specifies a place, or is an expletive, THEIR (not There again) is a possessive pronoun and They’re is a contraction of they are, and normally is not used in informal English.

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      EXCELLENT, you are absolutely correct, and I proof read it three times. If you need a job you can be my editor.

      Thank you so much,


  • 28/04/11  
    David diz: 8

    Thank you very much!

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      Thank you for reading my posts.


  • 28/04/11  
    William Braga diz: 9

    Excellent article. Clear, concise and very well explained. Congratulations. I only have a doubt in the phrase “Your is a possessive pronoun . . . .” Wouldn’t it be a possessive adjective instead?
    As I have regularly seen “your” referred to as a possessive pronoun and as I am not a native English speaker I would appreciate receiving your comments about this apparent confusion between these two classes of possessives (your – yours).
    Thank you and congratulations again.

    Bill Braga

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      EXCELLENT, “Your” is a possive adjective always used before a noun, and “Yours” is a posssessive pronoun often used by itself. MY ERROR.

      Thank you for you sharp eye and the correction.


  • 28/04/11  
    Tiago Tafari Catelam diz: 10

    Bill, you rock!

    Very interesting and useful article.

    I really enjoy when you alert us about the mistakes we make on the EE forum.


    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      Thanks for the complements, however I do make mistakes myself see the comments above.


  • 29/04/11  
    Mari diz: 11

    Liked this article a lot, it really help to increase our learning.
    Have one doubt, when you explained about the “used to”and “suposed to”, you meant thhat we can’t use them with the “d” in the end??
    Because I’ve learned and always said things like”Im not used to this kind of live” or “Give me some days and I`ll get used to it”.
    Isnt that ok??
    Plz explain it to me!
    Thank you

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      I think that I said that “supposed to” and “used to” both require the “d” but in any case the correct form is as shown here.


  • 29/04/11  
    Allisson Souza diz: 12

    Thx guy! These tips are GOING TO be very useful…

    • 02/05/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:


      I made a couple of errors in my original posts, please check above for the corrections pointed out by other members of EE.


  • 03/05/11  
    Carina diz: 13

    Hey… I was reading it, but at the end it’s talking that use “used to” and “supposed to” with a “d” is wrong, but I don’t think that is, right? Because when you use that you refer to the past, in the past participle, but now if you’re going to use it meaning the present so it really is wrong, I just think you could made that clear there. My English isn’t too advanced, but for what I learned and now researched “used to” isn’t technically wrong, if you refer to the past… Moreover, your article is really good, Congrats!

    • 03/05/11  
      Carina diz:

      Oh, I can’t alter my answer here? I made some language’s mistakes…

    • 03/05/11  
      Alessandro diz:


      Basta enviar um novo comentário com a retificação.


  • 25/05/11  
    Dicas de Inglês - Linking Words (Words that connect) – Part 1 diz: 14

    […] would like to thank Otavio, for suggesting this subject, and I would like to encourage all readers to make suggestions for me to write about. I also […]

  • 02/06/11  
    Dicas de Inglês - Linking Words (Words that connect) – Part 2 diz: 15

    […] I would like to thank Otavio, for suggesting this topic, and to also encourage others to suggest topics for me to expound upon. Further I ask that if you […]

  • 23/09/11  
    Clay diz: 16

    Good tips but don’t you think the title should be Commonly Misused Words and Phrases?