15 Misused Phrases and Words that Weaken Your Writing

Sculpture of words


Good writing—writing that is easily grasped by the reader without ambiguity—is essential to clear communication.  Even the most focused, thoughtful writing can be undermined by poor grammar or word usage.  In the English language, there are many phrases and words that often cause confusion, but here are a few of the most commonly misused words and phrases that can undermine your credibility as a writer.

  1. Centers around: Use centers on or revolves around because the center is the middle of a circle, the point around which things circle: The controversy centers on the governor.
  2. Estimated at about: Because an estimate is an approximation, it is redundant to follow it with about. Use estimated at: The repairs were estimated at $500. Better yet, make it active voice: He estimated the repairs will cost $500.
  3. Whose/Who’s: Whose is the possessive of who: Whose iPod is that? Who’s is the contraction for who is: Who’s going to the concert tonight?  If you can substitute who is, use who’s.  If not, use whose.
  4. Irregardless: This is a double negative and not a word. Regardless is correct.
  5. Over/More than: Over generally refers to spatial relationships: The Blue Angels flew over the lakefront. More than is preferred with numerals:  She owns more than 100 pairs of shoes.
  6. It’s/Its: It’s is a contraction for it is or it has: It’s raining outside. Its is the possessive form of it: The dog licked its bowl clean.
  7. Complement/Compliment: To complement is to round out, complete or bring to perfection; a complement is something that completes or makes whole:  The biscuits were the perfect complement to the tea. To compliment is to praise or admire; a compliment is an expression of praise or admiration: Her husband likes to compliment her.
  8. Disinterested/Uninterested: Disinterested means impartial or neutral. Uninterested means bored or lacking interest.
  9. Differ from/Differ with: To differ from means to be unlike: I differ from you in that I don’t like cold weather. To differ with means to disagree: I differ with you on your assessment.
  10. Entitled: Use this to mean a right to do or have something. Don’t use it to mean titled. Right: She believes she’s entitled to the promotion. Wrong: the book is entitled “Bird by Bird.” Right: The book is titled “Bird by Bird.”
  11. Your/You’re: Your is the possessive of you: Don’t forget your coat. You’re is the contraction of you are: You’re sure you won’t forget your coat?
  12. In/Into: In indicates location: She is in the lobby. Into indicates motion: She walked into the lobby.
  13. Ensure/Insure: Use ensure to mean guarantee: We will take steps to ensure the area is safe for children.  Use insure for references to insurance: the policy insures his life.
  14. Imply/Infer: Writers or speakers imply in the words they use. A listener or reader infers something from the words.
  15. Myriad: Myriad means an indefinitely large number: There are myriad opinions on any given subject. Do not use “myriads” or “a myriad of.”

This doesn’t nearly cover all the commonly misused words or phrases. Please share any you frequently come across.

Photo credit: Feuillu, flickr

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