Ten English Words And Phrases That Folks Use Incorrectly (2)

A few weeks ago, I published the first list of ten english words and phrases that folks use incorrectly. Here is a second list of words and phrases that confuse English speakers.

1. Try To vs Try And

The correct usage is try to. One doesn’t try and do something. One tries to do it.

Incorrect: I’ll try and do the assignment tonight.
Correct: I’ll try to do the assignment tonight.

2. Nauseated vs Nauseous

The sight of something sickening doesn’t make you nauseous but rather nauseated, although popular usage of nauseous as an adjective eventually may require us to rethink the meaning.

Incorrect: The sight of it made me nauseous.
Correct: The sight of it made me nauseated.
Correct: The sight of it gave me nausea.
Correct: The decaying corpse was a nauseating sight.

3. Bemused vs Amused

English speakers, at least in the United States, often use the word bemused when expressing that something amused someone, but bemused really means to bewilder, to stupefy, or to cause to be engrossed in thought.

Incorrect: The clown’s antics bemused the boy.
Correct: The clown’s antics amused the little boy.
Correct: The storyteller’s complex tale bemused the group.
Correct: Bemused, Barbara sat staring out the train window, little aware of what was going on around her.

4. In A Word

In a word should refer to the summation of an idea in a single word that immediately follows.

Incorrect: I find him, in a word, difficult to deal with.
Correct: I find him, in a word, difficult.

5. Nonplussed

Many people think nonplussed means unperturbed, unfazed, or unworried, but really it means confused, perplexed, baffled, or bewildered. The preposition by often accompanies the word.

Incorrect: He was cool, calm, and collected—completely nonplussed by the market crash.
Correct: Her ambiguous statements nonplussed him.

6. Reticent vs Reluctant

Reticent means to be silent, reserved, or understated. Reluctant means to be unwilling or disinclined to do something. You can’t be reticent to do something. Rather, you are reluctant to do it.

Incorrect: I am reticent to do that at this time.
Correct: I am reluctant to do that at this time.
Correct: She is reticent by nature, but when she speaks, she has something to say.

7. None

A few grammarians claim that none can be either singular or plural. Traditional usage is that none is always singular, and the safest approach is to use it that way.

Incorrect: None of my friends are present.
Correct: None of my friends is present.

8. Whet Your Appetite vs Wet Your Appetite

While saying that something wets your appetite may seem logical, the correct idiom is whet your appetite, and it means to sharpen your appetite as you would sharpen a knife with a whetstone. One whets a knife and also an appetite.

Incorrect: The hors d’oeuvres wet his appetite.
Correct: The hors d’oeuvres whet his appetite.

9. Enthusiastic vs Enthused

Enthused is an informal form that means enthusiastic and is not good English usage. Rather than being enthused about something, a person is enthusiastic about it.

Incorrect/informal: Sally is enthused about her new job.
Correct: Sally is enthusiastic about her new job.

10. Majority

Strictly speaking, majority is a singular noun, but the word is evolving to allow a plural usage as well. If majority describes a group, you should treat it as singular. If it describes a collection of individuals, then you may treat it as plural. If you find this analysis difficult to apply in a specific instance, just follow your ear. This approach clashes with the opinions of some grammarians, but the evolution of majority toward a variable singular-and-plural form seems inevitable.

    Collection Of Individuals – Plural Is Acceptable:

    Now accepted as correct: The majority of shareholders want action.
    Traditionally correct: The majority of shareholders wants action.

    Group – Singular Is Preferred:

    Incorrect: A 55% majority of Kansans are Republican.
    Correct: A 55% majority of Kansans is Republican.

We all can benefit from refining our spoken and written use of the English language. Subscribe to SlingingtheBull.com for notification of subsequent writing-related articles.

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

3 comments… add one

  • maria kipper March 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Thank you for the tips. I’m very pleased and appreciative of all your hard work. Keep up the good work.

    Reply edit
  • Mark December 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    This site only has ten mixups, but let me add one: “imply” vs “infer”.

    “Imply” means something the speaker does (“He implied the judge was a willing participant in bribery”)

    “Infer” means something someone else arrives at from an implication or the situation (“He inferred that John wanted to go on the trip because John hung around and talked about how food tastes better cooked over a fire.”)

    Reply edit
  • Jolyn July 27, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Haha. I woke up down today. You’ve cheered me up!

    Reply edit

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