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20 Common Words That You’re Using Wrong

20 Common Words That You’re Using Wrong

Are you using some common words wrongly? All sorts of weird uses are making their appearance on the language stage. Here are twenty of the most common ones but maybe soon, they will no longer be a problem, as language evolves. Ask me again, ten years from now.

1. Acute vs. Chronic

These words are normally used to describe pain. An acute pain means one that is sharp and sudden while a chronic one has been affecting you for a very long time. ‘Acute’ has other meanings which usually refer to a penetrating insight or a crucial situation.

Correct: ‘ I felt an acute pain in my shoulder which did not last long, fortunately.’

Incorrect: ‘He has suffered from acute pain in the hip for almost ten years’. ‘Chronic’ should be used here.

2. Affect vs. Effect

We talk about side effects when referring to illness or medication. ‘Effect’ is used as a noun which simply means ‘the result of’. The problem arises when people confuse this with the verb ‘affect’ which means to influence in a negative way.

Correct : ‘One of the effects of the recession was an increase in unemployment.’

Incorrect:- ‘Her serious illness effected him greatly.’ ‘Affected’ should be used here

3. Because vs. Since

Look at this sentence:  ‘Since you know Jack, there was no need to introduce you’. ‘Since’ is used when the reason is actually known by everybody.  We use ‘because’ when the reason is not clear or obvious.  ‘I was late because of the awful traffic’ is fine here. Imagine if we used ‘since’ in this sentence. It would sound very strange!

4. Bring vs. Take

If you are coming to my house for dinner, I can ask you to bring a bottle of wine. When leaving, I can remind you, ‘Don’t forget to take your smartphone’.  It all depends on the direction. Usually, ‘bring’ denotes that someone is coming towards you. If you are headed in another direction, ‘take’ is the right one to use.

5. Cache vs. Cachet

You often come across the word ‘cache’ when you are told that there is a problem with your browser and that the cache should be emptied. It just means a memory storage unit for URLs has become rather crowded. ‘Cache’ can also be used for storing weapons and treasure.

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‘Cachet’ can mean a mark of excellence or prestige, as in ‘The name Churchill has a certain cachet’. It can also mean an official seal on a document or letter.

6. Deserts vs Deserts vs Desserts

Brown Betty, Funnel cake and Red velvet cake are all American desserts. That is easy (and delicious).  Note the double ’s’ in the spelling. But how do you pronounce it? Click here to hear it.

Now, what about the other two? The first one is desert (stress on first syllable) which is the word we use when talking about the Sahara and sandy places. It can be singular or plural.

The other ‘deserts’ (more often plural than not; second syllable is stressed) can mean deserving punishment or the reward for something nasty. It comes from the old French word ‘deservir’ which means ‘deserve’. So, when you are satisfied that someone has been fairly punished for some nasty crime, then you can safely use it. It usually goes well with the word ‘just’ to emphasis that justice has been done.

Correct:  ‘Finally the murderous Archdeacon gets his just deserts and is killed by Quasimodo’

Here is one ridiculous example I have invented which illustrates the use of all three in one sentence: – ‘As I sat in my desert tent, enjoying my pecan pie dessert, I could not help feeling delighted that Bernie Madoff had got his just deserts for stealing money from his investors.’

7. Discreet vs Discrete

How discreet are you?  If you are an expert in avoiding asking people embarrassing questions or you are careful to keep confidential information to yourself, then you are discreet. Congrats!

‘Discrete’ means something entirely different. It means separate or distinct parts or units. We can correctly write:

‘We examined discrete market segments before deciding on pricing’

8. Elicit vs. Illicit

The word ‘elicit’ comes from the Latin ‘elicere’ or ‘licere’ which means to entice or coax, especially in the context of getting the truth or getting a response. A correct use would be: ‘Our survey did not elicit many responses’ It is typically used in situations where you are seeking a comment, a testimony or information of some kind.

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The word ‘illicit’ describes something illegal or which does not conform to common standards.

Incorrect: ‘He carried on an elicit affair with John’s wife.’ The correct word should be ‘illicit’

9.  Emigrate vs. Immigrate

Think of ‘emigrate’ as a means of exit. Both words begin with ‘e’ and means that emigrants get out when they want to leave their country of origin. We usually talk about our family in this way. ‘My great grandfather emigrated from Ireland when famine stalked the land’ is correct.

‘Immigrate’ describes the process of entering the country. We talk about ‘immigration policies’ and ‘illegal immigration’.

10.  Expresso vs. Espresso

I cannot understand why people incorrectly label espresso coffee as ‘expresso’.  Does it mean that it has an extra shot of caffeine or am I missing something? It is a complete mystery to me. I have heard a rumour that some baristas at Starbucks are incorrectly using the term ’expresso’.

11. I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less

Another mystery! People are actually saying ‘I could care less’ which means that they basically care but they want to do it less.  What they really mean is that they do not give a damn. The correct way of saying that is ‘I couldn’t care less’.

12.  I.e. vs. E.g.

If you want to give an example of something and do not want to give the whole list, just use ‘e.g.’ The original Latin meaning is ‘for example’.  A correct sentence would be ‘Some staff (e.g. Mary and Lou) are on a training course.’

If you want to explain something, use ‘ i.e.’ from the Latin id est which basically means you need to give an explanation, reiterate or simply say it in other words. Spot the incorrect sentence here:

1. It happened in July, i.e. three months ago.

2. It happened in July, e.g. three months ago.

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Number 2 is incorrect because it is not an example, it is a specific event.

13.  Incredible vs. Incredulous

‘Unbelievable’ is the idea you want to get across when you use ‘incredible’. It has a very positive meaning in that it is unbelievably good.

‘Incredulous’ has the meaning of a person being slightly sceptical or unwilling to believe, so it does have a negative connotation.

‘She looked at them with an incredulous stare’ is correct.

14.  Ironic

This word is often misused. It simply means there is some incongruity in a situation or comment. When I told my sister that a cardiologist friend of mine had died of a heart attack, she remarked that it was rather ironic. This was a correct usage of the word. You could be ironic if you say you feel great when you are clearly suffering from a terrible cough. But annoying events such as bad weather on your holiday are not ‘ironic’. They are just an unhappy coincidence or bad luck.

15.  It’s vs. its

Look, it is just an apostrophe (‘), so what on earth is all the fuss?  Well, the problem is that people are using ‘it’s, (the contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’) instead of ‘its’ (the possessive pronoun).  Spot the incorrect sentence here:

1. It’s been a long time

2. Australia has a booming economy; it’s mining industry has helped enormously

3. The fox did not venture far from its den

Number 2 is incorrect as the possessive pronoun (its) is needed. If you are ever in doubt, just try substituting the ‘it’s’ with ‘it is’, the full form, and you quickly see the problem. If we do that with sentence number 2, we get

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‘Australia has a booming economy – it is mining industry has helped enormously’. It does not make sense.

16.  For all intents and purposes vs. For all intensive purposes

People have started misusing ‘for all intents and purposes’ which simple means ‘the most usual or practical situations or purposes’. If you use ‘for all intensive purposes’ in describing a job, the person may think that there are emergency or life saving scenarios involved.

17.  Lose vs. loose

If you are wearing a loose fitting dress, it just means the opposite of tight. It has nothing to do with ‘lose’ which is a verb for not winning a match, or missing an opportunity.

18.  Me-me Vs. Meme

The word ’meme’ rhymes with ‘cream’ so dead easy to say. As we all know, it is just a viral image or piece of funny text which gets spread round the Internet. The only problem is that if you say this word incorrectly and use ‘me-me’, people may think you are being more than a little selfish!

19.  Principle vs. Principal

“My guiding principles in life are to be honest, genuine, thoughtful and caring.”- Prince William Prince William is talking about his values, ethics and beliefs. But when we use the word ’principal’ it can have different meanings such as:

  • The head of a school.
  • The primary or main element.
  • A sum of money lent.
  • First in order of importance, e.g. ‘The country’s principal cities’.
  • The leading performer in opera or concerts.

20. Than vs. Then

These get easily confused because they have almost the same pronunciation, as many of the examples above. When you make comparisons, you have to use ‘than’, e.g. ‘John is a better performer than Robin’

As for ‘then’, this is used to describe various time events. It can mean afterwards, a consequence or at a time in the past.

Look at these examples using ‘then’ correctly:

  1. Turn right at the traffic lights, then continue along Highway 23
  2. If you had listened to her, then you would not be in trouble now.
  3. I was much slimmer back then.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I have only covered the principal meanings and usage. Let us know in the comments which ones you have trouble in remembering and using.

Featured photo credit: Dictionary/Kenneth Movie via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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