HUGH CULVER

11 more incorrectly used words that make you look bad

Updated to Business on December 19, 2022.

I wrote a blog post recently all about incorrectly used words. I thought it would be a fun diversion—at best, titillation for the grammatically inclined.

Readers loved it.

Not only did they share it (a lot), they offered up more great suggestions.

And so, dear reader, I present to you 11 more incorrectly used words that make you look bad (you can thank me in the comments). And if this new list doesn’t levitate your lexicon, you can read the original post here.

#1 COMPLIMENT AND COMPLEMENT

Both compliment and complement sound the same (homonyms), but have very different meanings (like made and maid…but I digress). Compliment is all about giving praise (maybe I should rename my blog’s Comment section as the Compliment section?). Whereas Complement means completing or making something perfect. (hat tip to Jill Hilderman for this suggestion)

#2 INFER AND IMPLY

Question: did you infer that more sales is what’s needed, or did you imply it?

“If you are trying to suggest something by what you have said,” writes reader Virginia Nichols, “you are implying. If you have come to a conclusion based on what you have previously heard, then you are inferring.”

#3 NONE AND NO ONE

This one is controversial. According to reader, Neal of expertmediacoach.com “None (short for no one) is singular (as in none is). Most people use it as a plural (as in none are) because they are incorrectly modifying a prepositional phrase that follows, not the noun. “

But, according to Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl), none can be singular (as in “None of the students was wrong” or plural (as in “According to the students, none of them were wrong.”).

#4 LESS AND FEWER

Do you have less potatoes and fewer potato salad? Here’s a simple rule from Grammar Girl: “The traditional advice is that fewer is for things you count, and less is for things you don’t count.” So you ate less potato salad (but you double dipped at the dessert bar). (Thanks to Shirley Nain and Janice Porter for this suggestion)

#5 MYRIAD AND VARIETY

I am guilty of misusing this one: Myriad is only about quantity, as in ‘the myriad stars in the summer night’, and not about variety as in ‘there was a myriad of choices.’ “Myriad comes from the Greek for 10,000 and we don’t say a 1,000 of…” (Clare Edwards)

#6 CENTER AROUND AND CENTER ON

Even though it’s illogical to center around, you get some grace on this one. According to Merriam-Webster “The logic on which the objections are based is irrelevant, since center around is an idiom and idioms have their own logic.

Power to the idioms!

#7 I AND ME

Try this out loud: “It was 2:00 so John and me left for the meeting.” Now try this: “It was 2:00 so John and I left for the meeting.” I’m no grammar expert but “John and me” sounds like it came from Eliza Doolittle, pre-Henry Higgins make over. The trick, I learned (thank you big sister, Noni), is to delete the other person’s name and see if your sentence sounds right. “It was 2:00 so me left for the meeting.” is worse than awkward. (hat tip to Shirley Nain)

#8 BRING AND TAKE

Here’s a tricky one – do you bring home, or take home the bacon? Whether you use bring or take depends on your point of reference. “You ask people to bring things to the place you are, and you take things to the place you are going.” (Grammar Girl).

That’s why getting food to go isn’t called bring-out food!

#9 CONTINUOUSLY AND CONTINUALLY

Are you continuously improving or continually getting better?

Even though both words harken from the same roots, the meaning of continuously and continually are different cousins. Continuously means never ending and hopefully you are continuously improving.

Continually means very often or at regular intervals. That’s why you should be continually reading this blog and continuously practicing what you learn.

#10 DISCREET AND DISCRETE

Here’s another tricky homonym: to be discreet is to be careful, cautious and using good judgment.

Whereas discrete means separate or distinct. When authorities tested discrete neighbourhoods on the now-defunct Ashley Maddison site they tried to keep the results discreet.

#11 EVOKE AND INVOKE

Here’s a slippery one: do you evoke the powers of higher beings or invoke them? Actually, you could do both!

To evoke is to call to mind – a smell, long-lost memory, or names of actors who’ve played Batman since Adam West (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck).

To invoke is to call for help or maybe a higher power, like when the Mayor lights up the batman spotlight over Gotham City.

Want to go farther and insure a series is continuous? Precede to ad alot of suggestions in the comments (irregardless if you know right usage.) Than myself and me can create another post.