grammar mistakes

Avoid these 20 Common Misused Words to Make You Sound Smarter

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English is a wonderful yet pretty challenging language. It has rules and principles that even native speakers can’t explain or understand thoroughly. As a result, people who use English as a second language may be confused by some words and phrases if they share similar meanings. In the business context, grammatical errors may reflect anyone’s professionalism negatively. To help you avoid the same mistakes like the majority of people, we’ve sorted out the top common 20 misused words/phrases to avoid as below:

  1. “Your” and “You’re”

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    Text messages are often short and sweet, but they eventually kill grammar as people always look for ways to shorten their phrases. Hence, “your” has been replaced by “you’re” in most written conversations. Wondering what’s the difference? “Your” is followed by a noun indicating things that associated with the person you are talking to; “You’re” is short for “you’re”, followed by an adjective describing things that associated with him or her.

  2. “It’s” and “Its”

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    Believe it or not, even native English speakers often misuse these two words. “It’s” is short for “it is” while “its” is a possessive form of the pronoun “it”. Here’s another example: you use “it’s” as in “it’s your job” and use “its” as in “its logo has been changed”.

  3. “Should of/could of” and “Should have/could have”

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    We often hear people say “you should’ve” when referring to an action that would have been a better solution to make the outcome or a result of something more favourable. In grammatical terms, this phrase expresses a hypothetical situation where you could have fixed /changed something by doing something else. Because of its short form, it’s often miss heard as “should of”, which is wrong.

  4. Subject-verb agreement

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    A simple sentence structure in English contains subject and verb, whereby the verb form is determined by the subject. In the case of the sample in the image above, it’s very common for people to refer to an undefined subject “a good employee” with the plural form “their” because the gender is unknown. However, the correct way is to use “his or her” to ensure the consistency of singular/plural form.

  5. “Jive with” and “Jibe with”

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    “To jibe” means “to agree with” or “to be in accord with” while “jive” is a verb in related to music or “hipster”. For example, “jive” is used in “She grew up talking street jive”.

  6. Overuse “literally”

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    Ironically, the more popular understanding of the word “literally” is “not being literally true”. In informal language, “literally” is used to exaggerate a point and emphasise on the subject matter. For example, “I literally went through thousands of websites to find this deal.” However, this expression should not be used in business communication, otherwise, you’ll be coming off as bragging.

  7. “Effect” and “Affect”

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    Remember, “effect” is a noun and “affect” is a verb. You do something that affects others, which shows a negative effect

  8. “That” and “Who”

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    The relative pronoun “that” is often misused in replacement of “who” when people refer to others (the person who was mentioned in the sentence or clause before). For example, “You’re just somebody that I used to know”. Although it doesn’t change the meaning, you should differentiate the use of “that” and “who” when it comes to connecting the two clauses: use “that” to refer to an object or thing and use “who” to refer to humans.

  9. Worse comes to worst

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    This idiom is used to describe a situation when “the worst possibility really happens”. While the form “worst comes to worst” is generally accepted in English, it’s more preferred to follow the logical progression from comparative (the higher) to superlative (the highest).

  10. “Emigrated” and “Immigrated”

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    To put it simply: “She immigrated to America from Malaysia”; which also means “She emigrated from Malaysia to America.”

  11. First-come, first served

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    People tend to miss out the -ed part in “first served” because its ending sound is soft. Grammatically speaking, “serve” means you serve people, while “served” means you are being served. Therefore, saying/writing “first-come, first-serve” basically means if you arrive first, you’ll get to serve people first.

  12. “Wet your appetite” and “Whet your appetite”

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    It does make sense when you say “wet your appetite” to indicate the act of arousing your taste buds, but the correct word in this idiom is “whet your appetite”. The wrong use of “wet” may mislead the reader into thinking “quenching your thirst”.

  13. “Sneak peak” and “Sneak peek”

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    “Peak” is literally “the mountain top” whereas the phrase “sneak peek” means getting to see/know something before it is available to the public.

  14. “Everyday” and “Every day”

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    Perhaps, you use this word every day in your everyday conversations? Did you realise the difference? “Every day” is each and every day, as in “I go to work every day” and “everyday” refers to something ordinary or commonplace, as in “my everyday outfit is T-shirt and jeans.”

  15. “Find” and “Look for”

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    Despite having similar meanings, the grammatical functions of the two phrases are entirely different. You “find” something or someone that you don’t know exactly what it’s like or what he or she is like, as in “find the right candidates”. You “look for” something or someone that you know, especially when you lost sight of it/he/she, as in “are you looking for James?”.

  16. Dangling modifier

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    (Please excuse us for using the jargon) The simplest way to break down this grammatical error is to identify the parts of speech of the sentence.
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    The phrase “young and passionate” is supposed to describe May, which means the subject of the sentence should be May, not her potential. To fix the error, you just need to restructure the sentence to put May as a subject. Refer to the sample sentence in the image above.

  17. “Then” and “Than”

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    With only a slight distinction in pronunciations, “then” and “than” are often mistaken with one another. However, they carry completely different meanings. “Then” is an adverb that indicates a series of actions in time, for instance, “I met my mum at 3 pm, then headed to the office right after.” Meanwhile, “than” is a conjunction connecting the clauses of a comparison. Example: “Two is better than one”.

  18. “Who’s” and “Whose”

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    This is actually similar to the rule of “it’s” and “its”. You use “whose” as a possessive pronoun as in “Whose phone is this?”, which means “Who does this phone belong to?”. And “Who’s” is short for “Who is”, as in “Who’s this person?”

  19. “Advise” and “Advice”

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    The team need your advice on the matter, can you help to advise them? “Advise” is a verb and “advice” is a noun, simple as that.

  20. Redundant words

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    How often do you say “actual fact”, “combine together”, or “free gift”? Think again, a fact is always true, the word “actual” is redundant. Likewise, if it’s not “free”, it’s not a “gift”. Below are the most common redundancies in writing:
    – Added bonus
    – Actual fact
    – Blend together
    – Browse through
    – Combine together
    – Critically important
    – End result
    – Future plans
    – Join together
    – Most unique
    – Over-exaggerate
    – Past experience
    – Return back
    – Repeat again
    – Well respected

Related: Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset- Great Leadership Characteristics


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