5 of the Most Misused Words and Phrases of All Time

Books & Writing August 26, 2015

We all know that proper grammar is essential to writing things that people would want to read. But it doesn’t stop there. A grammatically correct piece could still easily be ruined one misused word or phrase. And it doesn’t help your credibility as a writer either when you can’t even tell the difference between “should of” and “should have” (hint: one of them should not even exist). As a general rule, when in doubt, ask Google. But before you do, save yourself some time and go over this list first.

1. “Should of” Versus “Should Have”

Should Have Versus Could Have

Let’s start with the example we used earlier. Though they may sound the same spoken—which is probably why people get confused in the first place—only one of them is correct: “should have.” You use it to express regret over a loss caused by something that you did not do. For instance, you might say: “I missed my flight. I should have left half an hour earlier.”

The same goes for “could have,” “would have” and “might have.” There’s no “could of,” “would of” or “might of.”

2. “Good” Versus “Well”

Good Versus Well

Contrary to popular belief, they are not interchangeable. “Good” is an adjective. It’s something you use to describe nouns as in “that’s some good pizza” or “it’s a good day for a walk.” “Well,” on the other hand, is an adverb. That means you use it to describe verbs or action words like in “my friend writes exceptionally well” or “she sings well.”

3. “Literally” Versus “Figuratively”

Literally Versus Figuratively

This one has been around for quite some time now. People always say things like “I literally died laughing” even though they lived to tell the tale.

Using the word “literally” implies that something happened exactly as described—which, in our example, clearly didn’t. The “dying of laughter” part was obviously figurative. It implies that they were laughing so hard that they felt like they were going to die.

4. “I Could Care Less” Versus “I Couldn’t Care Less”

Halloween Box Head Man Ignored by Texting Man by Lynn Friedman on Flickr
Halloween Box Head Man Ignored by Texting Man by Lynn Friedman on Flickr

Whenever people use either phrase, they usually want to say that something is so unbelievably uninteresting that it’s virtually impossible for them to care for it any less than they already do. Unfortunately, saying “I could care less” (which you shouldn’t do in the first place) implies the exact opposite. It means that you’ve reached peak levels of caring, and it’s just physically impossible for you to get care anymore.

5. “Wet Your Appetite” Versus “Whet Your Appetite”

Wall_Food_10124 by Michael Stern on Flickr
Wall_Food_10124 by Michael Stern on Flickr

The confusion probably stems from the fact that we use terms like “mouthwatering” to describe extraordinarily delicious food. Water is wet, so “wet your appetite” seems to make a whole lot of sense. But you know what makes even more sense? “Whet your appetite,” because the term “whet” actually means to stimulate.

Interestingly, various online sources say that people get this one wrong over 50% of the time. So, there’s no reason to feel sorry if you’ve ever used the phrase wrong in the past.

Come across any other misused phrases recently? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

5 thoughts on “5 of the Most Misused Words and Phrases of All Time

  1. As an author I just want to say that, apart from the fifth example, each of the above has an exception whereby if you write it as part of a character’s dialogue in a story, then it’s absolutely A-OK.

  2. The following was dropped from my original comment: But you know what makes even more sense? “Whet your appetite,” because the term “whet” actually means to stimulate.
    Actually, that’s not quite correct. The phrase ‘whet your appetite’ means to sharpen your hunger and is derived from the use of whetstones to sharpen the blades of various tools and weapons.

  3. One that I notice from the USA is the misuse of the word “unique”. It does not mean “distinctive”. It means one-of-a-kind; there is nothing else in the universe like it Something cannot be “very unique” any more that I could be “slightly pregnant”.

  4. Here’s one I see all the time: “piece of mind” used in place of “peace of mind” – When you give someone a piece of your mind, you tell them off. Perhaps you end up with peace of mind when you’re done?

  5. I would add misused words like maybe and may be, every and versus everyday, some time and sometime.

    Maybe and May be
    maybe – perhaps or possibly (as in something might happen)
    may be – has the ability to happen (as in implies something can happen)

    Every and and everyday
    every day – means each day individually
    everyday – (acts as an adjective) — means: frequent or often

    Some time and sometime
    some time – an extended period of time
    Here the word “time” acts as a noun and the word “some” acts as an adjective describing time.
    sometime – at some unspecified point of time. Sometime is an adverb telling when.

    If I have some doubts I use dictionaries. Hope this helpful information…

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