55 Top Commonly Misused Words In English (How To Sound Smarter)

In business, and online, nothing can undermine your credibility more quickly than commonly misused words in the wrong context. To be professional and sound smart, good writing skills are one the most underestimated skills, secondary to public speaking.

Improving your writing skills you can impact many areas of your life. Taking a few extra minutes when writing emails will ensure a less ambiguous meaning (I can’t count the amount of times that a misread email has caused problems for me) and project a much improved image of ourselves within business. Communication skills are far more challenging than most people realise.

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” Blaise Pascal

Learning new words every day and expanding your vocabulary will positively affect your communication skills and in turn enhance others perception of you. The aim is not to be a sesquipedalian such as Russell Brand – it’s about being able to deliver a message as clearly and simply as possible – and this is essential in marketing.

The written word is a powerful tool, but like all tools it’s only as powerful as its master.

Being able to effectively deliver the right word in the right context can be devastating or literally devastating if you get it wrong. With solid command of language your confidence will increase within your written content; and verbal in meetings and presentations.

Commonly misused and confused nouns and verbs

Noun, Verb

  • Advice, Advise: I would advise you to take my advice
  • Practice, Practise: the doctor would practise using his poker face in his medical practice
  • Device, Devise: if only i could devise a way to use this useful device
  • Licence, License: I give you license to buy a marriage licence

Commonly misused: one word or two?

Alot – is not a word
A lot – Not a lot of people know alot is not a word
Allot – I will allot my time to doing not a lot

Altogether, it’s a hundred miles to Googleplex
All together as a group we walked a hundred miles to Googleplex

Anyone here want to work for Google?
Any one of you here can work for Google

We will always have Google
All ways lead to Google

My everyday life involves Google
Every day I strive to be without Google

Everyone has their own Google story
Every one of you can tell me their Google story

The most commonly misused words – get them right to sound smarter

There are many references online to grammar, spelling and word usage but I found many contradictory or misleading. Therefore, all my references for this article were taken from the New Oxford Dictionary of English, Longman’s Guide to English Usage, My Grammar and I and Usage & Abusage Penguin Reference Guide – all print version books and highly recommended.

Abuse, Misuse, Disabuse

  • Abuse: to treat someone badly – he abused the goodwill of his readers by posting pictures of kittens
  • Misuse: to use something in the wrong way – he misused the website by posting pictures of kittens
  • Disabuse: to persuade that an idea is mistaken – He was disabused of his belief that his website was for posting pictures of kittens

Acute, Chronic

  • Acute: severe or intense but short duration, sharp, highly developed or shrewd insight – Panda delivered an acute problem for SEO
  • Chronic: long-lasting, constantly recurring or bad habit – Google is a chronic problem for SEO

Adverse, Averse

  • Adverse: unfavourable or harmful relating to conditions not people – Google creates adverse conditions for SEOs
  • Averse: having a strong dislike or opposition to something usually relating to people – SEOs are generally averse to Google

Allude, Elude

  • Allude: to suggest, call attention to indirectly or hint at – Google alludes to what is contained within its algorithm
  • Elude: to avoid or escape from danger or avoid compliance with (law) – SEOs constantly try to elude Google penalties

Affect, Effect

Probably one of THE most commonly misused pair of words:

  • Affect as the verb: make a difference to – The poorly designed ‘buy it now’ button affected me so much that it made me want to tear my hair out
  • Affect as the noun: can have technical meaning within psychology but not used outside the industry
  • Effect as a noun: a result – We got the effect we wanted by changing the colour of the ‘buy now’ buttons
  • Effect as a verb: to bring about a result – by changing the colour of the ‘buy now’ button we effected uplift in the conversion rate

You affect something by having an effect on it.

Assume, Presume

  • Assume: to suppose without proof or to seize power – I assume that Google’s wish is to assume the entire internet
  • Presume: to take for granted or to suppose on the basis of it being probability – I presume that Google has high profit margins

Assure, Ensue

  • Assure: to tell positively to dispel doubt or to make certain to happen – I can assure you that Google assured us they would ‘Do no Evil’
  • Ensure: to make certain something will happen – Google ensure that their priority is to make lots of money

Compliment, Complement

  • Compliment: to offer/give praise or a gift – My compliments to your picture of a kitten
  • Complement: two things that benefit each other – The picture of a kitten was the perfect complement to my website

Disburse, Disperse

  • Disburse: to give out (money) – Google has disbursed all its profits to charity
  • Disperse: to distribute over a wide area – Google threw sacks of money in the Grand Canyon where it dispersed through the valley

Discreet, Discrete

  • Discreet: to not draw attention or to be confidential – We were discreet with our investigation of the departments at Googleplex
  • Discrete: individually separate and distinct – Google is a discrete collection of departments within Googleplex


  • e.g. (exempli gratia): ‘for example’ and is an infinite list – Google had many employees, e.g. Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer
  • i.e. (id est): ‘that is’ or ‘in other words’ and used as an example to qualify a statement. It must be a finite list – I had to name the founders of Google (i.e. Larry Page and Sergey Brin)

Farther, Further

Modern English usage favours the use of further, but the two do have subtle differences.

  • Farther: by a greater physical distance – what is the farthest point from Google?
  • Further: by a greater figurative/abstract distance and is the more commonly used word – I cannot tolerate Google any further

Imply, Infer

  • Imply: to suggest indirectly (by the person speaking) – Google implied that they would reward sites posting pictures of kittens
  • Infer: to draw a conclusion (by the person listening) – I inferred that if I posted pictures of kittens Google would reward my site

Loath, Loathe

  • Loath: reluctant and unwilling – I was loath to look at any more pictures of kittens that day
  • Loathe: to hate – After being subjected for hours, I now loathe pictures of kittens

Me, Myself, I

  • Me is an objective pronoun used as the object of the verb – Google kept showing pictures of kittens to me
  • Myself is a reflexive pronoun used to refer back to the subject and should only be used when both the subject and the object of the verb are the speaker (I) – I couldn’t look at another picture of a kitten and stop myself from screaming
  • I is a subjective pronoun used as the subject of the verb – I am wearily looking at pictures of kittens

Me or I?

Bunny and I clicked on the link to the website
He sent a link from the website to Bunny and me

Who, Whom

The subject of much debate, with modern English mainly favouring the use of ‘who’ but if you want to be proper in your English language usage the following is the correct grammatical rule:

  • Who is used as the subject of the verb – who made the decision to make Google the law?
  • Whom is used as the object of the verb and after a preposition – to whom should we address the Google law?