Be Impeccable: Commonly Misused Phrases That Will Make You Sound Ignorant

Ursus Minor

Jedi Master
A great thread for everybody using, teaching, let alone translating English. :-)

Great list and glad to say I am not guilty of using any of those incorrectly.
Laura, I notice you spell our southern word as "ya'll". I have always spelled it "y'all" as in "you all". I grew up in Alabama and we said y'all a lot, but never to a single person as they do on TV. Is ya'll correct or is that a different contraction than for "you all"?
Heaven knows it took me years to find out what y'all means while trying to figure out Blues and Soul lyrics.
That was decades before the internet and the best even concise dictionaries could come up with were definitions of "yowl" and "yawl"... :lol:

I'm still struggling with the inflationary use of "off of" in American English, though.

But down at the beach I wouldn't hesitate to say things like: "Gotta get da ice-cream offa my pants, y'all!" :cool:
 

koin

Padawan Learner
I've noticed that use of "defiantly" when I know that the person meant "definitely" and I think it is most often just bad spelling or typo. Surely they are pronouncing "definitely" in their heads? Defiant is pronounced quite differently.
I agree, it's phonetically too different to be mispronounced but is more often a typo or erroneous correction by spell check.
 

JGeropoulas

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Just saw another one that pops up regularly: using the incorrect word verses (sections of a song, poem) instead of the correct word versus (opposed, against; often abbreviated "vs." in ordinary writing, and "v." in the titles of lawsuits, e.g. Joe Jones v. Smith Company)
 

Bastian

Jedi Master
Hello, I have some questions for native English speakers, about the common use of the preposition re instead of about in this forum, which I find a bit disturbing (I've never seen it during my studies).

For instance, in this message (as many others) :
And thanks to the thread re the Afterlife, I have no doubt he's 'gone fishin'!
I have tried to keep pace w/ the many discoveries re human biology/processes.
Let's see what some dictionnaries tell about it :

Oxford English dictionnary said:
re (preposition)
  • 1 In the matter of (used typically as the first word in the heading of an official document or to introduce a reference in a formal letter)
    ‘re: invoice 87’
Synonym : about, concerning, regarding, with regard to, relating to, apropos, apropos of, on the subject of, respecting, in respect of, with respect to, with reference to, as regards, in the matter of, in connection with, referring to, touching on
  • 1.1 About ; concerning.
    ‘I saw the deputy head re the incident’
Synonym : about, concerning, regarding, with regard to, relating to, apropos, apropos of, on the subject of, respecting, in respect of, with respect to, with reference to, as regards, in the matter of, in connection with, referring to, touching on

Usage
The traditional view is that re should be used in headings and references, as in Re: Ainsworth versus Chambers, but not as a normal word meaning ‘about’, as in "I saw the deputy head re the incident". However, the evidence suggests that re is now widely used in the second context in official and semi-official contexts, and is now generally accepted. It is hard to see any compelling logical argument against using it as an ordinary English word in this way

Origin
Latin, ablative of res ‘thing’.
(Source)

Collins dictionnary said:
re in British
(preposition)
with reference to

▶ USAGE Re, in contexts such as re your letter, your remarks have been noted or he spoke to me re your complaint, is common in business or official correspondence. In general English with reference to is preferable in the former case and about or concerning in the latter. Even in business correspondence, the use of re is often restricted to the letter heading.

Word origin of 're'
C18: from Latin rē, ablative case of rēs thing
(Source)

Cambridge dictionnary said:
re
preposition

formal (especially in business letters) about; on the subject of:
Re your communication of 15 February ...
(Source - so they don't even mention the new usage !)

So am I right, thinking that it was first formally used to begin letter objects, then used (by mistake) in the middle of sentences, and now the mistake is so common that this second usage is no more a mistake ? (D'oh ! >_< )

Or is there a subtle difference, are there some contexts where re is better suited than about (according to the new usage) ?
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
So am I right, thinking that it was first formally used to begin letter objects, then used (by mistake) in the middle of sentences, and now the mistake is so common that this second usage is no more a mistake ? (D'oh ! >_< )

Or is there a subtle difference, are there some contexts where re is better suited than about (according to the new usage) ?
Well, you quoted one source that basically gave the thing in a nutshell:

"The traditional view is that re should be used in headings and references, as in Re: Ainsworth versus Chambers, but not as a normal word meaning ‘about’, as in "I saw the deputy head re the incident". However, the evidence suggests that re is now widely used in the second context in official and semi-official contexts, and is now generally accepted. It is hard to see any compelling logical argument against using it as an ordinary English word in this way "

I think the main thing about it is that it is short and encapsulates an intention and we live in a world of shorter and ever shorter words! Most people use it as an abbreviation for "regarding" or "about".

However, note that this usage is pretty much confined to written exchanges and only hard-core "text speak" types would use it when talking face-to-face.

As to subtle differences: well, I think it has to do with flow and personal preference.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
This little gem came to my inbox this morning:




No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, using words incorrectly can change the way people see you and forever cast you in a negative light. You may not think it's a big deal, but if your language is driving people up the wall you need to do something about it.


It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc, because we don't even realize how poorly we're coming across. After all, TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence of more than a million people and found that self-awareness is the area where most people score the lowest.


We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.


When I write, I hire an editor to review my articles before I post them online. It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder and something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000!


Point is, we can all benefit from opportunities to sharpen the saw and minimize our mistakes. Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more “correct” or sophisticated that catch us by surprise when they don’t really mean what we think they do. These words have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.


Have a look to see which of these commonly confused words throw you off.


Accept vs. Except


These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Accept means to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.”


To help you remember, note that both except and exclusion begin with ex.


Affect vs. Effect


To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb.


Let’s start with the verbs. Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.”


As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”


Lie vs. Lay


We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay.


It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”


Bring vs. Take


Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.”


Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.


Ironic vs. Coincidental


A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck).


Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In “The Gift of the Magi,” Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony.


If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental. If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.


Imply vs. Infer


To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. To infer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. As a general rule, the speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.


Nauseous vs. Nauseated


Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseous means causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea.


So, if your circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’m nauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.


Comprise vs. Compose


These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language. Comprise means to include; compose means to make up.


It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”


Farther vs. Further


Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.”


If you can substitute “more” or “additional,” use further.


Fewer vs. Less


Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted; use less when referring to a whole: “You have fewer dollars, but less money.”
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
It's good to know some of the same grammar and vocabulary errors that irritate me have already been mentioned.

I sometimes knowingly use incorrect grammar (sometimes not). One of my least favorite rules in English is "Do not end a sentence with a preposition".

I found a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that illustrates how painful the correct use of this rule can be.

Then I also found that even that quote is difficult to verify.

“Churchill” on Prepositions
The saying attributed to Winston Churchill rejecting the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition must be among the most frequently mutated witticisms ever. I have received many notes from correspondents claiming to know what the “original saying” was, but none of them cites an authoritative source.
The alt.english.usage FAQ states that the story originated with an anecdote in Sir Ernest Gowers’ Plain Words (1948). Supposedly an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition, and the Prime Minister, very proud of his style, scribbled this note in reply: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” The American Heritage Book of English Usage agrees.
The FAQ goes on to say that the Oxford Companion to the English Language (no edition cited) states that the original was “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” To me this sounds more likely, and eagerness to avoid the offensive word “bloody” would help to explain the proliferation of variations.
Also, the over-use of acronyms sometimes drives me up a wall. FWIW :-P

I am getting more used to using them now that I have been here on the forum for awhile. OSIT ;-)
 

broken.english

Jedi
FOTCM Member
And then there are some real basics, which many people ignore:

There is a difference between
- than and then
- too and to

Please contribute to the survival of "than" and "too". Both words are on the brink of extinction.
 
I didn't expect to find a thread like this here. As a hardcore Grammar Nazi, I have to do this.

@Laura

I often see you use "for awhile" and "in awhile".

Oxford Dictionary
awhile: For a short time.

Usage: The single word awhile is an adverb meaning ‘for a short time’, and should not be confused with the noun use of a while, ‘a period of time’: stand here awhile, but we stood there for a while

Cambridge Dictionary
awhile: for a short time

Merriam-Webster, to cover American usage
awhile: for a while

Usage example: Stay awhile and rest.

So basically "for awhile" means "for for a while", which is obviously nonsense.

Some dictionaries may list "for awhile" as viable, probably because so many people misuse it, but as was in the original post here: "But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least strive for impeccable speech by understanding the best – or most commonly accepted – ways of saying certain words and phrases."

As someone who regularly cringes and facepalms at what people write, I have to acknowledge that your writing is much better than most people's. This example above is the only issue I notice regularly. (Occasionally there may be a slight misuse of a comma, but virtually nobody knows how to use commas correctly.)

Regarding "awhile", two examples from this thread:

Gaby: "Keit recommended the Grammar Girl awhile back."
goyacobol: "I am getting more used to using them now that I have been here on the forum for awhile."

Clearly this is pretty widespread.
 
One of my least favorite rules in English is "Do not end a sentence with a preposition".
Not to worry, because this "rule" is actually bullshit. From what I remember from a book on linguistics, this idea came from Latin, where a preposition at the end of a sentence is not allowed. People in higher circles of society (aristocracy), who were well-versed in Latin, insisted on maintaining this in English, considering it "proper". But English has a completely different structure than Latin, and this "rule" makes no sense in English. It's only enforced by an elitist group of puritanical linguists, and there's no reason whatsoever to adhere to this nonsense.
 

griffin

Jedi Master
FOTCM Member
[...]
There is a difference between
- than and then
- too and to
[...]
Often people type "that" in place of "than" or "then", or vice-versa, too.
Also, sometimes people type "of" rather than "off".

All of these errors are particularly annoying because they're just sloppy, careless hit-and-run writing.
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
goyacobol: "I am getting more used to using them now that I have been here on the forum for awhile."
That's an interesting one Mandatory Intellecomy. I think the cross-out above would be better?

Gee, it's fun sometimes to learn correct grammar and use of vocabulary. I am amazed at many of those here on the forum who do so well using English even though it is not their mother tongue.

I would like to learn to speak other languages but I know I would definitely be making these kinds of errors even more.

One thing the Cs said about language makes me think that we may be placing too much emphasis on perfection.

Q: (L) Is there some way to communicate with whales or dolphins and can one find a way to translate the differences and have a reasonable, intelligent exchange with a whale or a dolphin or even an elephant?

A: You don't need conversation "with" when a higher telepathic level.

Q: (L) Dolphins and whales communicate telepathically?

A: Yes. So do dogs and cats and snakes etc. etc. only humans have learned the "superior" art of verbal communication.

Q: (L) But, at the same time, verbal communication can be quite limiting, is that correct?

A: That is the point.
 
That's an interesting one Mandatory Intellectomy. I think the cross-out above would be better?
Yes, though the by far more common solution would be: "I have been here on the forum for a while".

(Also, while we're at grammar nazism, addresses should always be separated with commas, so: "That's an interesting one, Mandatory Intellectomy." Things like "Hello Joe" or "Welcome Jane" without the commas are wrong. "Welcome Jane" is when you're telling somebody to welcome Jane, not when you're welcoming Jane. But like I said, almost nobody knows how to use commas, so...)

One thing the Cs said about language makes me think that we may be placing too much emphasis on perfection.
Well, saying "verbal communication can be quite limiting", I think the point is that words can't express thoughts precisely enough. But in that sense, the better you are with words and language in general, the better you get the meaning across. And I don't think we're going to learn telepathy anytime soon, except by graduating to 4D, so language as precise as possible is probably the best thing we have for now.
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Well, saying "verbal communication can be quite limiting", I think the point is that words can't express thoughts precisely enough. But in that sense, the better you are with words and language in general, the better you get the meaning across. And I don't think we're going to learn telepathy anytime soon, except by graduating to 4D, so language as precise as possible is probably the best thing we have for now.
I knew you were going to say that...:-P
 
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