8 Commonly Misused Words (Slideshow)


People stray from the dictionary definition of words all the time. Myself included! Misusing wordsdoesn’t say much about our intelligence, though! More likely, what these misused words exemplify is how language evolves and adapts over time.


How it’s commonly used: casually read, skim over.

What itactually means: to read thoroughly.

The dictionary definition of peruse is almost the opposite of common usage. Well, that’s ironic! (Or is it?! More on irony later…)You don’t peruse a magazine at the beach, salon or doctor’s office. Rather, to peruse is to carefully consider a piece of writing.

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How it’s commonly used: overbearing mature child

What it actually means: unusually mature indevelopment

People often understand precociousness to be a negative trait in a child. Really, though, to be precocious is to be mature for one’s age.


How it’s commonly used: an important event in the past.

What it actually means: an event in the past.

The invention of the printing press and the last time you went to the grocery store are both historical events. The former, however, is the historic event of the pair.


How it’s commonly used: to have a lot of something.

What itactually means: to have an excess/overabundance of something.

This one’s interesting — somewhere along the way, plethora lost its negative connotation. English-language speakers, we sure do love our junk!

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How it’s commonly used: enormous in size.

What it actually means: outrageousorheinouscharacter;atrociousness.

You are awed by a mansion’s enormousness, not enormity. Enormity is reserved for the absolute worst situations and people, like, say, if aliens were colonizing the earth.

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How it’s commonly used: uncommon.

What it actually means:unparalleled.

For something to be unique, it has to be one-of-a-kind. Rough example: a painting is unique; a photograph isn’t.


How it’s commonly used: odd coincidence

What it actually means: “anoutcomeofeventscontrarytowhatwas,ormighthave been,expected.”

You knew this was coming! Irony is misused because, well, what exactly constitutes irony is confusing. Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” famously contains no actual examples of ironic situations. But, the fact that a song about irony doesn’t actually use accurate examples of irony, that’s ironic!


How it’s commonly used: for emphasis.

What it actually means: In a literal or strict sense.

I swear I hear someone say this every ten seconds. I don’t hear it literally every ten seconds though, because that’s an exaggeration. Another example:”he’s such a liar, his pants are literally on fire” is also inaccurate. Why? Well, unless you need to dial 911, his pants are figuratively on fire. If it’s not actually happening, it’s not literally happening.


There you have it, 8 commonly misused words. Any more you’d like to add to the list?

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Leslye J.
Leslye Jospeh4 years ago

Peruse came as a surprise to me

Eva H.
Eva H4 years ago

A good list!
One interesting words: Something that can easily start burning is in British English inflammable - literally "may go into flames". In USA, the prefix in- was mistakenly interpreted as 'not', as in inexplicable - so American English uses the word 'flammable' för BE 'inflammable', while the American English word 'inflammable' means it will NOT catch fire!

Miss RJ
Past Member 4 years ago

Very interesting! Thanks!

Lois M.
Lois M4 years ago

Good article! I cringe when I see incorrect grammar and poor spelling. Spell check is one of the worst tools to use as it corrects some spelling errors, but at the same time it often uses a word that is spelled the same, but with a different meaning,,,,the there, their, they're... for example..

ScoTT Senate
ScoTT S4 years ago

"I do not think that word means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya

ScoTT Senate
ScoTT S4 years ago

Considering how frequently plethora is used, is it not ironic that it means excessive?

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Rose A.
Rosy Armitage5 years ago

I'll add one....hopefully. Most people use it to mean "I hope", but its an adverb. Example: "hopefully the sun will shine", should be, "I hope the sun will shine". The sun cannot shine "hopefully", any more than it can shine sadly, neatly, maternally, tidily or in any other manner.

Chrissie H.
Chrissie H5 years ago

What drives me crazy is when someone says 'could of' ' instead of the correct 'could have.'

Bechi C.
Bechi C5 years ago