Misused Words

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Adverse means detrimental and does not mean averse or disinclined.

Appraise means to ascertain the value of and does not mean to apprise or to inform.

As far as means the same as but cannot be used the same way as as for.

Begs the question means assumes what it should be proving and does not mean raises the question.

Cliché is a noun and is not an adjective.

Credible means believable and does not mean credulous or gullible.

Criteria is the plural, not the singular of criterion.

Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun.

Dichotomy means two mutually exclusive alternatives and does not mean difference or discrepancy.

Discreet means tactful or avoiding embarrassment, while discrete means separate or individually distinct.

Disinterested means unbiased and does not mean uninterested.

Enormity means extreme evil and does not mean enormousness.

Flaunt means to show off and does not mean to flout.

Fortuitous means coincidental or unplanned and does not mean fortunate.

Hone means to sharpen and does not mean to home in on or to converge upon.

Hot button means an emotional, divisive controversy and does not mean a hot topic.

Ironic means uncannily incongruent and does not mean inconvenient or unfortunate.

Irregardless is not a word but a portmanteau of regardless and irrespective.

Literally means in actual fact and does not mean figuratively.

Mitigate means to alleviate and does not mean to militate or to provide reasons for.

New Age means spiritualistic, holistic and does not mean modern, futuristic.

Noisome means smelly and does not mean noisy.

Opportunism means seizing or exploiting opportunities and does not mean creating or promoting opportunities.

Parameter means a variable and does not mean a boundary condition, a limit.

Phenomena is a plural count noun — not a mass noun.

Practicable means easily put into practice and does not mean practical.

Protagonist means active character and does not mean proponent.

Refute means to prove to be false and does not mean to allege to be false, to try to refute.

Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk are used in the past participle — not the past tense.

Simplistic means naively or overly simple and does not mean simple or pleasingly simple.

Untenable means indefensible or unsustainable and does not mean painful or unbearable.

Urban legend means an intriguing and widely circulated but false story and does not mean someone who is legendary in a city.

An effect means an influence; to effect means to put into effect; to affect means either to influence or to fake.

To lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to recline; to lay (transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to set down; to lie (intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to fib.

Adapted from Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (New York: Penguin, 2014).