One of the most difficult things about learning new words is that if one person uses a word wrong, everybody else will get on board. In fact, there are some words that were misused by so many people for so long that the dictionary actually changed their definitions. So it’s no wonder that sometimes, you might hear the way somebody else uses a word and intuit an incorrect meaning for it. Still, as understandable as this is, it doesn’t exactly make you look professional. So if you want to avoid common mistakes with vocabulary, take a look at these commonly misused words and learn what you should be saying instead.
- Bemused → means confused NOT amused
It’s easy to see how the spelling similarities here can trip you up. But if someone is bemused, they’re confused by what’s going on, not amused at the state of the world. So if someone does something silly or makes a joke, be sure to describe them as amusing, not bemusing.
- Hone → means to sharpen, NOT to converge upon
They’re homing pigeons, not honing pigeons. On the other hand, if you’re sharpening up your fancy kitchen knives, you’re honing them, not homing them. Be careful with this pesky one-letter switch!
- Appraise → means assess, NOT apprise
An auctioneer might “appraise” the value of the item before they sell it since to appraise something is to assess its value. The auctioneer would then apprise the bidders of its value — I.e. “to tell someone about something.” Again, it’s one letter that makes the difference here, so be careful!
- Staunch → means strong, NOT stanch
Another example of a single vowel completely changing the meaning of a word. To be staunch is to be “loyal and committed in attitude” or to be “of strong or firm construction.” If you want to describe someone trying to stop a wound from bleeding, you should say they are “stanching the blood flow.”
- Flaunt → means to display ostentatiously, NOT to openly disregard
Don’t hide it, flaunt it! This classic saying is an example of proper use of the word, in which “flaunt” means to display something ostentatiously. On the other hand, if you’re breaking the rules in an obvious manner, you’re “flouting” them, not flaunting them.
- Fortuitous → means by chance, NOT fortunate
Again, fortuitous sounds very similar to fortunate, so it makes sense why you might think they’re synonyms. But in fact, something is fortuitous if it “happens by accident or chance rather than design.” It does not mean that something is particularly lucky.
- Depreciate → means diminish in value, NOT deprecate
Anyone who knows about recent inflation going wild has probably heard this word. “Depreciate” is when something uses value, I.e. when inflation makes money worth less than it was worth before. On the other hand, “deprecate” means to “express disapproval of,” I.e. self-deprecating remarks.
- Nonplussed → means surprised and confused, NOT unperturbed
This is a tricky one because of that little “non” at the beginning. But ‘nonplussed’ is not the opposite of ‘plussed’ — it means “surprised and confused so much that they don’t know how to react.” This is the opposite of the way the word is often incorrectly used to mean “unperturbed.”
- Complementary → means working well together, NOT complimentary
Again, just one letter makes the difference here! Whoever came up with English really should have been more creative with their spellings. Complimentary means “expressing a compliment; praising or approving” while complementary means “combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other.”