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10 Words You’ve Been Using Wrong

This is a guest post courtesy of Alicia Lawrence. She is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and enjoys helping clients like Havahart with online PR. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Yahoo! Small Business, and Inspiration Feed.

You don’t need to be an English major to cringe when people misuse particular words. Every so often a word like “selfie” or “twerking” enters our collective lexicon, and many in the intellectual elite go about proclaiming the death of English as a language.

We’re not quite there yet, but there’s no question it’s on life support. Thankfully, we’re here to help you make sure you’re not among those who are misusing commonly misused words. Here’s a list of 10 to get you started.


 The word “literally” is to be used as an absolute: that is, to communicate when something is absolutely true without room for interpretation or doubt. In other words, if you’ve ever told somebody you were “literally starving to death,” you’ve almost certainly used the word incorrectly.


 The word “peruse” is an odd one, because its popular usage seems to have become the exact opposite of what it actually means. “Peruse” is most commonly used to indicate that you’re skimming through a text of some kind, when it actually refers to the act of reading something in detail.


 Here’s another strange one. Most people use the phrase “a moot point” to indicate when something is redundant or not worthy of discussion. The true meaning is quite different: a “moot point” is something that’s open to discussion. Remember the Ents from Lord of the Rings? Their “Entmoot” was when they gathered to thoroughly discuss important events and decide on a course of action.

Accept and Except

 While this mistake is almost exclusively limited to the written word, it’s no less important to point out. The word “accept” indicates that you’re receiving something. “Except” indicates that something is being excluded.


 This one’s maybe a little less common, but it’s still worth noting. The word “criteria” is the plural form; if you have only one, use the word “criterion” instead.

Farther and Further

 The distinction between these two words is subtle yet important. When you’re talking about a physical distance, you use the word “farther.” “Further” is used in a more figurative way, such as when you’re talking about the degree or severity of something; for example, “Follow these tips to take your learning further.”


 If you want to send an English major to a rehab clinic, use the phrase “extremely unique.” Something is either unique or it’s not; there are no varying degrees of uniqueness. When something is unique, it’s quite literally the only one of its kind.


 Let’s make it simple: “alright” isn’t a word. We may grudgingly adopt it as a dictionary entry soon enough since most people use it frequently, but some of us are still fighting the good fight. The proper phrase is “all right.”

Affect and Effect

 Everyone has made this mistake at some point in their lives. The word “affect” is a verb that refers to the influence of one thing over another: “The moon affects the Earth’s tides.” Compare this to the word “effect,” which is a noun that refers to that influence: “the moon’s effect on the earth’s tides.”


 This is the one that seems to have heralded the death of English itself. It seems like only about one in every ten people knows how to use the word “ironic” properly. Most seem to think that it refers to a coincidence, or perhaps to humorous serendipity. In actuality, “ironic” refers to something that is the opposite of what you expected. If you accidentally shoot yourself in the face while teaching a class on gun safety, you’ve experienced irony.