6 of the Most Commonly Misused Words in the English Language

We interact with the world in print as much as face to face in this, the Digital Age. We buy, sell, leave reviews, comment, text, and share our lives all through written language. Many who cross your way will know nothing about you aside from that indelible mark you leave on their page, or your own if you are a blogger, so make sure it reflects your intended image. Here are some of the more commonly misused words online. Say what you mean to say!

 

Breath vs. Breathe

The verb breathe means to inhale and exhale. “Just breathe in that fresh mountain air!”

The noun breath means the air that was expelled, or can be used to refer to life or vitality. “My grandkids are a breath of fresh air around this lonely apartment.”

 

Lose vs. Loose

Lose is always a verb meaning to find yourself without something, or to fail, as in the opposite of win. “I always lose at Mahjong, but at least I don’t lose my temper.”

Loose can be a verb meaning to release or let go, as in, “Loose the bloodhounds!” Or an adjective describing something not secure or put together, “I am just tying up all the loose ends.”

 

Affect vs. Effect

This one can be tricky, as both can be used as either a verb or a noun, and both can be used in multiple ways. The noun part is fairly easy, as affect is rarely used that way outside the field of psychology. Here’s a rule of thumb to help when you’re using one or the other as a verb:

Affect is more Active. The subject is doing something to cause a reaction. “Her mood affected the whole room.” “That cold snap really affected the my neighbor’s garden.”

Effect is more passive. It’s the result of something else. Or the power to produce results itself. “His speech had no effect on his audience. The video presentation finally produced the desired effect.”

 

Accept vs. Except

To accept means to agree or submit to receiving something, except means everything but that. “She gratefully accepted the award. She was ready for any outcome… except that!”

Side note: Expecially… what is this? It is not a word. Look up Mr. Rogers and his world of make believe inventor friend, Cornflake S. Pecially. I’ve always remembered this is an S not the X so many say because of that little rodent.

 

Hone in vs. Home in

To hone means to sharpen something, like an axe. Or your writing skills. To home, usually to home in on something, means to go home, or direct something to a precise point. Like a homing device. Or a pigeon. “He really homed in on their fears and created a panic.”

 

Defuse vs. Diffuse

I usually see this misused when trying to use the phrase “defuse the situation,” which refers to reducing the tension, or taking the sting out of an intense moment. To defuse is the one you want. Just like it looks, you want to de-fuse, or take away the potential catalyst for disaster. Just like defusing a bomb.

Diffuse means to disperse something widely. It can make sense when used in the phrase, “diffuse the situation,” but it means you are somehow spreading out the tension in the air or potential conflict rather than removing the threat through humor or some other strategy. It’s better used elsewhere.

 

Of vs. Have

Should have not should of, would have not would of. Could have not could of. Or should’ve, would’ve and could’ve work too!

 

 

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