10 incorrectly used words that can make you look bad 91



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Whether you are still working full time or are starting to wind down your tireless work habits, there is never a bad time to try and improve your grammar. For many, years can go by without even realising that the way in which they use certain words is completely wrong.

What’s worse is that after this realisation it can become difficult to break the habit. But have faith in yourself, just a little practice everyday will see you breaking bad word habits in no time at all. The following list is a number of words that are commonly misused or misspelled.

Whose and who’s

“Whose coffee is this?” is correct. Use the non-contracted version of who’s, like, “Who is (the non-contracted version of who’s) coffee is this?” and you will start to sound a little silly.


Number and amount

These words are commonly being misused. Use number when you can count what you refer to: “The number of viewers who watched the show increased last month”. Amount refers to a quantity of something that can’t be counted: “The amount of beer consumed at the party was staggering”. It can get confusing, but just make sure that if you can’t count how much of something there was, you use amount.


Imply and infer

This is one of the most frustrating words on this list, and can be difficult for many to grasp.

The speaker or writer implies, which means to suggest. Whereas it is the listener or reader that infers, which means to deduce, whether correctly or not.

So I could imply you’re going to get fired. And you might infer that your employment termination is imminent, either correctly or incorrectly.


Elicit and illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract. Offering someone a reward to do something is a way of eliciting a response, or coaxing a response.

On the other hand, illicit means illegal or unlawful. “Bad people sometimes try to elicit favours from people with the promise of illicit drugs”.


Discreet and discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the farmer would sell his block of land.”

Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: “We analysed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels”. And if you get confused, remember you don’t use “discretion” to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.


What words do you get mixed up? Which of these surprised you? Tell us below.

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  1. You might add “persuade” and “convince”. TV presenters often say convince when they mean persuade.

  2. You might add “fewer” and “less”. Many people, including TV presenters, say less when they mean fewer.

    2 REPLY
    • Yes, it’s frustrating to hear “less people/cars/bikes” etc from people on radio and TV and expect to be taken seriously.

  3. ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’. ‘Disinterested’ means ‘unbiased’, ‘uninterested’ means ‘not interested’. ‘Disinterested’ is frequently used incorrectly.

  4. I spent many years as a court transcript typist, and these words we had to know. We had to pass a very lengthy spelling test and word meaning test.

  5. Just adding to Lyn’s comment, which I wholeheartedly agree with, another mistake I see people make is using the word there instead of they’re.

    2 REPLY
    • Yes I can see that some people could get confused…
      They’re..they are
      There…distance or place
      Their…others own this..
      If im wrong please correct me…

    • Quite correct Robyn! I think this comes easier to people who read more and can remember all the tips in grammar. Eg: I before E except after C or That is Jack’s car ( who owns the car) Jack so it is apostrophe s against -who took the boys’ jackets?( who owns the jackets? ) the boys so the apostrophe comes last.I think if people read more it becomes a bit easier.

  6. “Less” is singular and “fewer” for plural. I often hear “less cars”. Annoying! One of my pet hates is when people use “lay” instead of “lie”, as in “I’m going to lay down”! Here, lay can be used “I lay down yesterday”, past tense. Or a chicken might say “I’m going to lay an egg!!

  7. I agree with all of these. You constantly read and hear these misuse of words in the media. My two pet hates are: drive/travel safe (adjective) instead of safely (adverb); and the phrase “less people” instead of “fewer people”.

  8. One ‘foul’ swoop instead of one fell swoop.

    Prostrate and prostate. A friend always refers to this as the ‘lying down disease’ because so many people use the words incorrectly.

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