The Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases in the English Language

January 16, 2017 5:00 am
Commonly Misused Words and Phrases
(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Commonly Misused Words and Phrases
(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


So you fancy yourself Shakespeare reincarnate, do you? Think again. As Business Insider UK reports, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker has identified some of the most misused words and phrases in the English language in his book The Sense of Style.

Now, whether you’re the type that Wikipedia’s answers, Google searches grammatical usages, regularly cites Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, or just dotes on the MLA, we’d suggest throwing all of that out the window for the time being. Pinker’s target? Bad writing in the 21st century, and what can be done to make it better. As part of this search-and-destroy mission, Pinker identifies a number of the most commonly muffed words and phrases, and we’ve curated a list of ones we think you might have trouble with, along with short explanations (where appropriate).

(1) Adverse

Right: The space monkey had an adverse reaction to the blue pill.
Wrong: I wouldn’t be adverse to looking at pictures of a monkey in space. (That’s actually averse.)


(2) Bemused

Right: Why little girls think Taylor Swift is the bomb bemuses me.
Wrong: I was bemused by the clown who sprayed water in Taylor Swift’s eyes. (That should actually be amused.)


(3)The word criteria is plural.


(4) Data is also plural.

Example: Those data that you found on FiveThirtyEight about President-elect Trump are really interesting. (Pinker does note that “data” is hardly ever used as a plural these days, but it’s worth knowing either way.)


(5) Enervate practically means the exact opposite of Energize (i.e. to weaken).


(6) Hung is what the Met did to its paintings on its walls during its last major exhibition. Hanged is when somebody ends their own life.


(7) You cannot be an urban legend. It actually means “an intriguing and widely circulated but false story.”


(8) You may be a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton for Mayor of New York, but not a stanch one.


For the rest of Pinker’s list, click here.

RealClearLife Staff

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