Ten English Words And Phrases That Folks Use Incorrectly (1)

From time to time, we all make mistakes in English. In informal conversation, some laxness is acceptable, but even so, it’s nice to be aware of the correct usage. Here I provide the first of several lists of common English words and phrases that people often employ incorrectly:

1. Healthy vs Healthful

Both of these words are adjectives, but things that are good for one’s health are healthful, while people, animals, or plants that are in a state of good health are healthy. Americans have so frequently used healthy incorrectly (notable example—the trade name “Healthy Choice”) that the word appears to be evolving. Such changes come to the chagrin of those who have learned to make the distinction.

Incorrect: Eating carrots is a healthy habit.
Correct: Eating carrots is a healthful habit.

Incorrect: Carrots are healthy.
Correct: Carrots are healthful.

Correct: The carrot plants in the garden are healthy, and when harvested, their produce will be healthful.

2. Peruse

For years, people have used peruse when they mean skim, and the misuse has become so widespread that some dictionaries have given the word that additional meaning. The traditional definition of peruse is to read carefully, to scrutinize, or to examine in detail. The word is evolving, however, and may end up meaning to skim.

Incorrect: I don’t have much time, but I’ll peruse your article and let you know what I think.
Correct: I don’t have much time, but I’ll skim your article and let you know what I think.

3. All Of A Sudden vs All The Sudden

The correct form of the idiom is all of a sudden. All the sudden is an incorrect usage that probably is patterned on a mistaken hearing of the correct form.

Incorrect: All the sudden, she turned around.
Correct: All of a sudden, she turned around.

4. Regardless vs Irregardless

Regardless can be broken down into regard and less, and it means regard less or without regard. The form irregardless exists, but its usage is limited to nonstandard English that is thrown about in humorous situations. The usage probably derives from confusion with words like irrespective that do not have the suffix less. Irregardless is a double negative, and if your goal is to write in Standard English, you should avoid using it.

Incorrect: Irregardless of the hour, please call me.
Correct: Regardless of the hour, please call me.

5. Imply vs Infer

Imply and infer are antonyms. The speaker implies something in the words spoken, and the listener infers something from those same words.

Incorrect: She inferred that she wanted to go.
Correct: She implied that she wanted to go.

Correct: She implied that she wanted to marry him, but he inferred that she wanted to break up.

6. To Bring vs To Take

The uses of to bring and to take depend on the point of view. If you are at home talking on the telephone to the hostess of a party, you inform her that you will take a casserole to the party. If you are already at the party, you tell the hostess that you brought a casserole.

Incorrect: Sherry, I’m planning to bring a bottle of wine to your party.
Correct: Sherry, I’m planning to take a bottle of wine to your party.

Correct: Sherry, I brought a spinach dip. Where do you want me to put it?
Correct: Yesterday, I took a spinach dip to Sherry’s party.

7. Effect vs Affect

To effect something is to bring it about or put it into motion, while to affect means to have an effect on or to influence something or someone.

Incorrect: The price increase will effect me.
Correct: The price increase will affect me.

Correct: We must work hard to effect the change.
Correct: Our efforts to effect the change will not affect her.

8. Then vs Than

When I submitted the manuscript to the publisher of my second book, What Your Lawyer Doesn’t Want You to Know, all of the thens and thans were correct. When I received the first galley, however, one of the thans had been changed to then. I was livid! The assumption is that editors catch mistakes, and if an error slips through, obviously the author committed it initially. I got it changed, but it worried me until I saw the published version.

Incorrect: Nothing is more important then your health.
Correct: Nothing is more important than your health.

9. For All Intents And Purposes vs For All Intensive Purposes

The correct form of the idiom is for all intents and purposes. For all intensive purposes is an incorrect usage that probably is patterned on a mistaken hearing of the correct form.

Incorrect: For all intensive purposes, the vehicle is new.
Correct: For all intents and purposes, the vehicle is new.

10. I Couldn’t Care Less vs I Could Care Less

In daily speech, one hears I could care less more often than the correct form. We say many things in English that we don’t really mean, but this error is easy to eliminate.

Incorrect: I could care less what she thinks.
Correct: I couldn’t care less what she thinks.

In casual conversation, taking liberties with common words and phrases is not such a bad thing. No one cares much, and frankly, changing verbal habits can be difficult.

Writing is different, though, because of its permanence. Each time you write something, take a little extra time to do a good job. You can impress others through well-drafted email messages, comments on social-media websites, reports, letters, and greeting cards. Making some modifications to our English usage will help us become more effective writers, thinkers, and contributors to the world in which we live.


6 comments… add one

  • maria kipper February 13, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I loved the article on your blog. Your views are very helpful to someone with English as second language. I thought I was going to find nymphs (ninfas in Portugues) to read about it. I miss them.

    Reply edit
  • Suzanne Brown February 16, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Great article. I confess that I am guilty of not ever using healthful, frequently using irregardless and misusing peruse. To make matters worse, I am certain I used peruse to sound more knowledgeable. Having been enlightened, I hesitated to leave this comment certain that the other gaping holes in my grammatical education be subject to light as well. However, in spite of my new enlightenment, I will continue to use and defend “to bring” when the action will be going toward the person I am speaking with. “To take” sounds like I would be taking something away from them.

    Reply edit
  • Mary Ellen Snyder July 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Interesting… In a blog about language misuse, you have committed an apostrophe sin. #8 Then vs Than “…’however, one of the than’s had been changed to…” Apostrophes are used for possessives and contractions, NOT plurals!! Just venting about my pet peeve- now I feel better.

    Reply edit
  • duende44 July 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I agree. I used it correctly the first time and missed the second one. Thanks for your comment.

    Reply edit
  • PJ June 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Regarding #2 – I will cease to use ‘peruse.’ Not because I use it incorrectly, but because I am now concerned that it may be misinterpreted. Also, #1, I have never made that distinction because healthful sounds awkward, however, I will endeavor to use it in the future. Thank you for a very interesting article.

    Reply edit
  • Doug Eikermann June 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for reading the article, PJ. You’re right about “peruse.” The double meaning has made it a word of little utility. With respect to “healthful,” however, once you start to use it, phrases like “Healthy Choice” will grate on your ears and nerves. 🙂

    Reply edit

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge