We all have our quirks in how we speak based on how our parents and family taught us to speak, the culture we grew up in, the part of the country we grew up in and the schools we went to. However, there are a handful of words and phrases that are universally used incorrectly and make you look like you’re less intelligent than you are. Here are the top 10 things you say every day that you should use differently or stop saying altogether.
The word literally made big news this year when the dictionary officially changed the definition because of how commonly this word is misused in common conversation. When somebody says they “literally died laughing” they had better have died or they’re using the word wrong. What they’re trying to say is they “figuratively” or “metaphorically” died laughing. In general, not only do we use this word incorrectly but it’s way overused and in this humble author’s opinion be retired.
This is a habit that dies hard and I’m guilty of it too. I use the word like to punctuate what I’m talking about instead of just pausing in my sentence. For example, “This is like, the best steak I’ve ever had” should just be “This is the best steak I’ve ever had.” Using the word like while speaking instead of punctuation is a bad habit that makes you sound like a teenager so let’s like, stop saying it, okay?
Irregardless is not a word. There, I said it. While I’m not sure what the origin of irregardless is, adding “ir” to the beginning of the word is meaningless and has likely found favor because it makes a common word sound “smarter.” However, the correct word is just regardless so when it comes up avoid adding extra letters to this commonly misused word.
4. Less and Fewer
It seems like less and fewer are the same word, but there is a subtle difference between the two words and there is a correct and incorrect use for each word. The simple rule is that you use the word fewer when you are discussing things you can count, such as “There are fewer sticks of gum left in the pack than I started with.” You use the word less when you are referring to something that cannot be counted, for example “Less people know that irregardless isn’t a word than I had hoped.”
While the word isn’t used incorrectly when you are looking at the definition of basically, the way in which it is commonly used tends to be condescending. When you use the word basically to start a sentence you are inferring to the listener that you are dumbing down the idea for them so they can understand it. You probably don’t mean to insult your friends this way, but unfortunately this habit can lead to some subtle jabs at your friends so try to avoid using this word.
6. I Could Care Less
This one makes me cringe every time I hear it. What you are trying to say is that you do not care, and thus you could not care less. If you could care less it means you do care some about what the person is talking about and so you’re sending the wrong message. Either way, this phrase is kind of insulting and is antiquated so you’re better off just avoiding either the correct or incorrect version of this phrase.
7. Further and Farther
Similar to less and fewer, these words seem to mean the same thing but there is a subtle difference between the two and they are meant to be used in different contexts. Farther is meant to refer to a physical distance and further is meant to refer to something metaphorical. The quick tip here is to remember that something is far away from you so it is farther. An example using both words correctly would be, “Though I was farther from home than ever before, I had to think further on where my next destination would be.” Here I said farther because I am saying I am physically far from home, but I had to think further because you can’t describe thoughts in terms of physical distance.
8. Affect and Effect
I keep going back to these words that sound similar and seem to mean the same thing but are in fact subtly different. In general, the word affect is a verb and the word effect is a noun. An example would be, “The mold affected the cheese. The effect was quite smelly.” The mold is changing the cheese so it is affecting it and the result is that the cheese smells so that is the effect of the mold. It can be a little confusing at times but if you keep in mind that you affect a change on something you can keep the two words in place and use them correctly.
9. Its and It’s
Using Its and It’s properly is incredibly easy but many people get tripped up when deciding when to use the apostrophe. The only time you will ever use it’s is when you are trying to say “it is.” It’s that simple. It’s cold outside. It’s going to rain today. Each of these short sentences uses it’s as a contraction of it is. You might misuse it’s because you’ve been taught that you use an apostrophe to indicate possession. Bob’s burgers, Lisa’s saxophone, Larry’s daughter, for example. Its is unique because you don’t have to use an apostrophe to indicate possession. “It’s wing is broken” actually means “It is wing is broken” which doesn’t make sense. The next time you’re tempted to use the word it’s, just stop for a second and pull the word apart. If it sounds funny to you, then it’s almost always the case you’ll want to say its instead.
I couldn’t help myself and had to cap this list off with the worst offender of words we overuse. Um is one of those pause words that gives you a moment to think of what to say next, but it’s a word that is used way too much. Instead of saying “I’d like to go, ummm, to the, umm, deli for a sandwich” you’re much better off just pausing for a moment to collect your thoughts and stating clearly “I’d like to go to the deli for a sandwich.” I know that this is a terrible habit to break out of but avoiding using this placeholder sound will make you sound much more intelligent and hopefully help you create the habit of being thoughtful of what you’re about to say.