Words and phrases commonly misused


Right your wrongs with some of the most commonly misused words and phrases.

Culture and habits that we pick up from the people around us, shape the way we communicate and behave.  Mistakes over the complexities of the English language is common especially if it’s not your mother tongue. Check out our list as it will throw some light on how to avoid some of the words and phrases commonly misused.

1. Stay vs. Live

These two words are often misunderstood.

– to remain through or during (a period of time):
We stayed a week in New York.

– a sojourn or temporary residence:
A week’s stay in Melbourne.

– to dwell or reside:
She lives in a cottage.

– to cohabit (usually followed by with):
I live with my brother.

You use the word “live” when referring to your home, somewhere permanent and where all your things are. However, if you go on a holiday and or business trip, you’ll most likely stay in a hotel or family or friend’s home. You use the word “stay” here as it refers to a continuous action which only takes place for a short period of time.

2. Bungalow

– a small, usually one-story house, often having a low-pitched roof, overhanging eaves, and a veranda

The term is often misused in Asia, especially in Malaysia and Singapore where two-storeyed houses or detached houses are referred to as “bungalow”.

3. Go to bed vs. sleep

Go to bed
– to retire, especially for the night:
I go to bed at 11:00pm every night.

– to rest in a state or reduced consciousness; cease being awake:
I sleep five hours a day.

“Sleep” is used to describe how long you rest for. You use “go to bed” when you specify the time at which you start to rest (sleep).

It’s incorrect for one to say, “I always sleep late” when they actually mean to say “It’s always late when I start to sleep” or “I always go to bed late”. “I always sleep late” in fact means “I always sleep for a long time” (meaning you don’t get up until the late morning and early afternoon).

4. Chop vs stamp

– to cut into pieces with short vigorous cutting motions:
She chopped an onion to make soup.

– to cut or sever with a quick, heavy blow or a series of blows, using an axe or hatchet, etc. (often followed by down, off, etc.):
He loves to chop wood.

– a cut of meat, usually one containing a rib:
I like lamb chops served with chips.

– a short irregular broken motion of waves; choppiness:
There’s too much chop for rowing today.

– bring down (one’s foot) heavily on the ground or on something on the ground:
Jason stamped his foot and and screamed at his friends.

– crush, flatten, or remove with a heavy blow from one’s foot:
Daisy stamped the dirt from her new shoes.

– walk with heavy, forceful steps:
Chin Wei stamped out, muttering under his breath.

– impress a pattern or mark on (a surface, object, or document) using an engraved or inked block:
The officer stamped my passport

– fix a postage stamp or stamps on to (a letter):
I offered to stamp the envelope for her.

– an instrument for stamping a pattern or mark, in particular an engraved or inked block:
All passport holders with visa stamps were allowed in first.

– a characteristic or distinctive impression or quality:
We can proceed with the project as Oscar as given his stamp of approval.

– a small adhesive piece of paper stuck to something to show that an amount of money has been paid, in particular a postage stamp.

– an act or sound of stamping with the foot.

In the business world of some Asian countries, it’s not uncommon for one to ask for a “chop”. What they are actually referring to is a “seal: or “stamp”. The reason for this is probably because they have adopted a version of the Hindi & Malay word – “Chhaap” and “cop”, which means “date stamp”.

5. Fill in, fill out vs. fill up

Fill in
– to complete a form or questionnaire with requested information:
Fill in the facts of your business experience.

– to complete by adding detail, as a design or drawing:
Fill in a sketch with shadow.

– to substitute for:
I am filling in for a colleague who is ill.

– to fill with some material:
Brian filled in a crack with putty.

– Informal.to supply (someone) with information:
Please fill me in on the morning news.

Fill out
– to complete (a document, list, etc.) by supplying missing or desired information.

– to become larger, fuller, or rounder, as the figure:
Jamie has begun to fill out since I saw her last.

Fill up
– to fill completely:
I filled up a glass with orange juice.

– to become completely filled:
The open water tank filled up as a result of the steady rains.

These expressions are commonly confused by non-native speakers. “Fill in” and “fill out” are used when you want someone to complete a questionnaire, survey of form. However, the term “fill up” can’t be used to “complete a form” as it means to make something full, generally with liquid.

6. You and me vs. you and I

If “you and I” are performing the action, it should be “you and I”:

You and I are running 5km today.
You and I are should work together.
You and I love ice cream.

If “you and I” are receiving the action, it should be “you and me”:

John wanted you and me to lead the group.
They will give you and me a gift today.
My dad promised to take you and me to Paris.

If you’re not sure when to use “me” or “I”, just read the sentence without the other person in it and see if it sounds right.

“The teacher sent copies of this week’s assignment to James and I”. If you remove James from this sentence, you’re left with “The teacher sent copies of this week’s assignment to I” and this will confirm that “me” should have been used instead of “I”.

7. In regard to vs. In regards to

“With regards to” and “In regards to” is a popular misuse.

It should either be:
As regards
– Concerning; in respect of
As regards the war, we believed it was unnecessary.

With regard to/ In regard to
– Referring to; concerning
With regard to the new employee, we need to discuss further.

8. Irregardless vs. Regardless

Irregardless is a perfect example of a word that is used regularly but in fact, doesn’t even exist. Regardless means “without regard” so the -ir prefix that contradicts the phrase that comes before it, is redundant in this instance.

9. Good vs. well

Good is adjective, which means it modifies a noun.

It’s a good idea.
You are a good boy.
You’ve done a good job.

Well is an adverb., which means it modifies verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

The girls are doing well.
His promotion was well deserved.
You’ve done your job well.

10. Get off vs. get down from

You get out of a car, but you don’t get off or down from a car unless you have climbed onto its roof.

You get off a bus/train/plane or get down a bus/train/plane if it has a high passenger platform or a long step down.

11. Who vs. Whom

Who should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence.

Whom should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.

There’s a simple trick you can use when you are unsure which word to use in a sentence.
If you can replace the word with “he” or “she” in a sentence, use who. If “him” or “her” fits, you should use whom. You can temporarily rearrange the sentence to test it:

a. Who/whom left me this message?

He left me this message Correct

Him left this message Incorrect

The example above shows that “he” works and “him” doesn’t so the right word to use is “who”.

b. Who/whom should I call for more information?

I should call she Correct

I should call her Incorrect

The example above shows that “she” doesn’t work and “her” works so the right word to use is “whom”.

12. Emigrate vs. Immigrate

– Leave one’s own country in order to settle permanently in another:
My family emigrated from India to Australia.
Ahmad is planning to leave Pakistan and emigrate.

– Come to live permanently in a foreign country:
Sandra immigrated to Australia in 1980.
She had to wait for years to have her family immigrate to Canada.

To help you remember, associate the “I” of immigrate with “in” to remember that the word means moving into a new country. And the “e” of emigrate with exit, meaning to leave your home country.

13. Disinterested vs uninterested

– Not influenced by consideration of personal advantage. Unbiased or impartial.
The teacher is under obligation to give disinterested advice.

– Having or feeling no interest in something.
The seemed uninterested in our offer.

14. Borrow vs. lend

– give something to someone for a short time, expecting that you will get it back.
Raj borrowed a car to go on a date.

– get something from someone, intending to give it back after a short time.
I can lend you my pen.
I lent Wee San $30.00.

15. Few vs Less

Determiner, pronoun, & adjective
– A small number of.
– Used to emphasise how small a number of people or things are.
She asked me a few questions.
I had a few drinks

Determiner, pronoun
– A smaller amount of; not as much.
– Fewer in number.
The less time spent in the pub, the better.
My teacher was less than happy when she heard the news.

Source: Dictionary.com; Medium.com; Independent.co.uk; Instagram; Grammarly, Cambridge Dictionary

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