10 Commonly Misused Words & Phrases

Previously from the category On Writing

 

Just like with any other art form, we all know there are many rules to writing. Playing a piano for instance will only sound good if you use corresponding notes that don’t sound as if they are bashing into one another. A good thing to remember when having to learn such rules is that once you have them down as a second nature it will be that much easier to have a smooth, flowing sound to whatever it is you’re writing.

Here are ten important words and phrases that are commonly misused when writing. Although some of the following may be rudimentary to some, to others it could mean the difference when writing a final report, research paper, or even your own works of fiction.

  1. Illusion and Allusion

In my personal experience, many only fluently know the use of the term illusion, however they’ve often used an allusion without even knowing it. The two differ slightly in pronunciation, and while one is used to be deceiving, the other is used to express a statement that calls forth a secondary thought.

An illusion is something that can be perceived or interpreted incorrectly by the senses through deceptive appearance or impression.

Ex. The king had maintained the illusion of an imminent threat outside the kingdom to keep his guards more alert, if only to safeguard him from corruption within the walls of the kingdom itself.

An allusion is an expression that’s design is used to call something specific to mind without having specifically mentioned it.

Ex. The oppressive nature of the regime started having the same qualities of the Third Reich. The people were forced to conform or leave before facing its unjust nature. (In this example, the mention of the Third Reich of Germany calls forth thought about the oppressive nature of the Nazis during WWII.)

 

  1. Literally

Literally is a word often used in the same sense as a hyperbole whereas it supports an idea by instilling heavy exaggeration. Literally is only to be used in the form of complete exactness.

An Example of incorrect usageI literally just ate that entire restaurant’s buffet because I was so hungry.

An Example of correct usage –  I cannot believe the number of houses that were literally flooded to the roof after hurricane Harvey.

 

  1. This

Pulling directly from The Elements of Style, ‘The pronoun this, referring to the complete sense of the preceding sentence or clause, can’t always carry the load and so many produce an imprecise statement.’ The pronoun cannot always be seen as specific when so much information was given in the previous statement.

Example of incorrect usage – When the governor had enacted a zero tolerance policy for the use of alcohol and drugs within the school systems, the teachers as well as the students were affected by it. This meant anyone that was found having any association with the substances would be removed from the premises.

Example of correct usage – When the governor had enacted a zero tolerance policy for the use of alcohol and drugs within the school systems, the teachers as well as the students were affected by it. The policy was stated clearly that any person or persons, including both teachers and students, found having any association with any given substances would be removed from the premises.

 

  1. Effect and Affect

I’ve always had trouble with affect and effect. They sound very similar in pronunciation as well as meaning, but they are both different and should be used accordingly.

The effect of something means the result or consequence of an action

Ex. The rapid aging and tooth loss were the effects of many years of drug abuse.

To affect something means to have an effect or change upon something or someone else

Ex. Being around the wrong people can affect one’s judgement when trying to make the right decisions.

 

  1. Like

Like is typically used instead of the conjunction as. Many may think it a correct usage in the same sense as the conjunction as, but many do not look closely enough to examine whether the use is correct or incorrect.

Example of incorrect usage – She and I spent the afternoon walking through the park, delving deep into our imaginations just like in the old days.

Example of correct usage – She and I spent the afternoon walking through the park, delving deep into our imaginations just as we did in the old days.

 

  1. In terms of

This phrase is referred to as ‘padding’ in The Elements of Style, and the book calls for it to be omitted.

Example of incorrect usage – The knight did not like his placement on the battlefield in terms of engagement.

Example of correct usage – The knight did not like his placement on the battlefield; the point of engagement was not favorable.

 

  1. Imply and Infer

To imply something means to suggest or indicate without direct expression

Ex. “I’m not sure what you’re implying with such a negative tone, but I don’t like it.”

To infer something means to draw conclusion from the evidence given

Ex. “From the evidence gathered, we can infer that the victim knew who the murderer was when he was killed.”

 

  1. Than

Pulling directly from The Elements of Style, ‘Any sentence with than (to express comparison) should be examined to make sure no essential words are missing.’ Meaning you need to know what the initial noun is referring to when than is introduced in comparison with the other nouns.

Example of incorrect usage – I enjoy the company of my brother more than my sister.

Example of correct usage – I enjoy the company of my brother more than the company of my sister. OR  I enjoy the company of my brother more than my sister does.

 

  1. Divided into

This is a phrase that is commonly use in place of composed of, and vice-versa. The two should not be switched.

Ex. Cells are divided into two categories: plant cells and animal cells

Ex. A cell, no matter the category, is composed of water, inorganic ions, and carbon-containing (organic) molecules.

  1. Very

This word should be used as sparingly as possible when writing anything. The use of strong words themselves, while having a clear understanding of their exact meaning, should be the go to rather than the use of very to modify a simple word.

Exhausted could be used instead of very tired.

Infuriated could be used instead of very angry.

Gigantic could be used instead of very large.

Lengthy could be used instead of very long.

Mundane could be used instead of very boring.

 

 

Hope everyone enjoyed this post. If for some reason there has been an error in any of the rules stated above, let me know and I will be happy to correct myself. Each of these rules have been pulled from the third chapter of The Elements of Style, a book that I highly recommend for any aspiring writer. It’s concise and well-structured unlike many info heavy books you may find today.

 

 

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