Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

There are few things more embarrassing than realizing you have been using a word or phrase incorrectly and no one ever told you. This isn’t just because we take pride in being intelligent. Errors like these, repeated over time, lessen our credibility. These mistakes can even cause us to miss out on a job or other opportunity. This list catalogs some of the most commonly misused words and phrases and describes the correct usages—as well as where you might have some wiggle room to interpret your own way.

Commonly Misused Words in English

                Are vs Our

  • Are is a verb that describes the state of something in the present. Things are
  • Our is a pronoun, meaning it stands in for a group of people in a sentence. John and I love to eat pizza. Our favorite place is around the corner.

                Effect vs Affect

  • Effect is a noun that means the result of a change. What will the effect of this merger be?
  • Affect is a verb that describes a change in progress. The merger will affect every department.

                Lay vs Lie vs Laid

  • Lay is a verb that describes an object being placed somewhere. I lay the book down on the table.
    • The past tense of this is I laid the book down on the table.
  • Lie is a verb that describes resting or reclining. I am going to lie
    • Confusingly, the past tense of this is lay. I lay down for a few hours this morning.

                Ensure vs Insure

  • Ensure is a verb that means you are going to guarantee something. I ensure you will get the results you want.
  • Insure is a verb specifically related to insurance. She decided to insure her jewelry for $100,000.

                Then vs Than

  • Then is a word that can be many parts of speech but is usually an adjective or adverb. Almost all its uses have to do with time or the order of events. I will be ready by Let’s go to dinner, then the show. If the client calls, then I might be late to the meeting. The decision was made by then president Adam Jones.
  • Than is a conjunction used to compare two things. I am taller than Their store is busier than ours. They have more than I have. I am less than pleased.

                Which vs That

  • Which is used when the information that follows it isn’t essential to the understanding of the sentence. The car, which seemed expensive, was attractive to Tony. (In this case, the car is attractive to Tony whether it is expensive or not.)
  • That is used when the information that follows is essential to the understanding of the sentence. The car that seemed expensive was attractive to Tony. (In this case, it is the fact that the car is expensive that makes it attractive among other options.)

Words That Don’t Actually Exist

In addition to confused words like the ones above, there are some words we might use that are rarely or never correct.

                Alot

  • This mistake is usually made when someone is trying to say there is a lot of something. You would never use “alittle” as one word trying to describe a little of something. In the same way, a lot is two words.
  • If you are trying to talk about an allotment, to allot someone a portion requires two “L’s.”
  • Alot is never correct.

Supposably

  • This isn’t exactly an imaginary word since you can find it in some dictionaries from the 1800s. But today, it’s generally regarded as incorrect.
  • Its literal meaning is “conceivable within imagination.” An aunt or uncle could supposably tell children something their parents don’t want them to learn.
  • But when most people make this mistake, they are trying to say supposedly, which means “what people accept to be true, or what is reported.” She supposedly completed the project, but I don’t know.

                Irregardless

  • This word is believed to have been created as a slang mashup of “irrespective” and “regardless.”
  • Regardless means the same thing, but avoids the double negative created by “ir-“and “-less” that causes this word to be considered incorrect.

                Inflammable

  • People often use this word to try to describe something that can’t catch on fire. However, the word for that is
  • Flammable is the word for something that can catch on fire. Inflammable means the same thing as flammable but causes unnecessary confusion. This is because we associate the prefix “in-“ with something being the opposite of what follows, like inflexible or But in this case, that rule does not apply. Instead, you might be saying the opposite of what you intend.
  • According to Merriam-Webster, this mess arose because of a Latin translation error.

                Unequivocably

  • This word is a mistaken attempt to say unequivocally, which means “plainly and without doubt.” I can tell you unequivocally that this product will be a success.
  • Unequivocably is not a word and is never grammatically correct. Since it is a piece of slang, you can still play it in Scrabble.

                Unthaw

  • Like irregardless and inflammable, this is a case of adding a prefix to a word that is already doing a fine job on its own. To thaw something already means to unfreeze it. Can you thaw the steaks for dinner? The spring thaw is coming soon.
  • If you think about the prefix “un-“meaning the opposite, like unfriendly, to unthaw something would actually mean to freeze it again.

Commonly Misused Phrases in English

                Deep-seeded

  • When people use this phrase, they mean to say deep-seated, which means established at a profound level. I have a deep-seated fear of heights.
  • Merriam-Webster does a great job of explaining how our use of “seed” in athletic tournaments has led to this confusion growing worse over time.

                Piece of mind

  • If you are trying to ease someone’s fears, you are offering them peace of mind.
  • The idea of giving someone a piece of our mind opens the door to confusion between these two.
  • Remember that peace of mind is a positive offering, while a piece of your mind usually is not.

                For all intensive purposes

  • This confusion is a case of not hearing the actual phrase correctly. For all intents and purposes is a phrase from law that has become common use. It means “in every practical sense.” For all intents and purposes, those two are dating, but they just won’t admit it. I am the dog’s owner for all intents and purposes, because I feed it and take care of it every day.
  • Often this continues to be misinterpreted by those making the mistake because we think of intensive as being “deep” or “comprehensive,” like “an intensive” This is understandable, but still incorrect.

                Sneak peak

  • In this case, it’s important to remember that peek means “look,” while peak means “the top of a mountain.
  • If you got an advance look at the top of a mountain, you would get a sneak peek at the

                By in large

  • Like “for all intensive purposes,” this error is commonly caused by mishearing the phrase in speech and applying what the brain interprets in our writing.
  • By and large means considering all the aspects of a situation together. By and large, what we need is someone who can answer these questions.
  • Some people hear and use by an large, which is also incorrect.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and summaries like these don’t always drive home the nuances of using these words and phrases correctly. If you ever find yourself questioning your usage at the moment, we recommend turning to Google. A quick search for the phrase or word you are questioning will bring a lot of resources to your fingertips, including quizzes and worksheets to practice correct usage. And at the end of the day remember—everyone makes mistakes!

Oral Communication During an Interview

You’ve scoured the web for the right job listings. You’ve written and revised your cover letter a hundred times. You’ve filled out online applications and tweaked your resume to be just right. Up to this point in the employment search process, you’ve used written materials to pique the interest of potential employers. Now, it’s finally time for your interview, but are you ready to sell yourself? Whether it’s done over the phone, via video chat, or in-person, oral communication can make or break the entire deal. What goes into great oral communication during an interview, and how can you be sure to make the best possible impression?

Oral Communication During an In-Person Interview

In person-interviews allow job-seekers are able to use the interaction to show off every aspect of their personality and prove that they’re the right person for the job. However, this also means there’s a lot of pressure for interviewees to deliver at all angles. A study performed by Come Recommended found that 33 percent of bosses knew whether they would hire someone within the first 90 seconds of an interview. With that in mind, make sure you’re primed and ready to go from the moment you enter the room. Practice active listening by repeating questions back to the interviewer or summarizing their question. Speak clearly and succinctly, and don’t worry about taking your time to formulate your thoughts when answering a question. According to a study published on Career Geek 38percent of hiring officials said the quality of grammar and overall confidence had the most important impact during the interview.

Oral Communication During a Video Interview

Over the past few years, companies have made the push toward video interviews to make the process more efficient. A study published by the Aberdeen Group found that 47percent of companies prefer video conference interviews because it saves on time, and another 67percent said it cuts down on travel costs. Though you may not be in the room with the interviewer, you should do everything possible to act like you are. Eye contact is still incredibly vital during these video interviews, as it demonstrates confidence. The study published by Come Recommended found that 67percent of bosses and hiring managers cited a lack of eye contact as being a primary mistake by applicants. Don’t let yourself become distracted by going ons around you, and find a quiet, private location that will allow you to answer questions and focus your attention on the hiring party. Continue to practice active listening by asking questions and summarizing their points. Take your time in responding so you don’t trip over your words.

Oral Communication During a Phone Interview

Phone interviews can be a tricky situation. Without any visual cues, it’s tough to gauge reactions to what you say or how you say it. It’s also common to find yourself and the interviewer unintentionally interrupting or talking over one another. Still, these types of interviews are often unavoidable, particularly in the first few rounds of candidate conversations. They are an efficient and quick way for hiring managers to sift through a lot of applicants. When the call begins, make sure to greet anyone who’s announced themselves on the call. Before answering, listen to the question in its entirety so that you’re not jumping the gun or leaving anything out. It may be handy to keep a notepad nearby to jot down important ideas you want to communicate. You’ll also want to try and keep your answers succinct; without the ability to make eye contact, it can be easy to give long and rambling answers. As with any of these interview scenarios, answer with confidence.

Interviews are both exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s as though we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But, we also know that if the interview doesn’t go well, it may mean beginning the process all over again. Your written materials got you to this point, but person-to-person meetings will rely much more heavily on your oral communication skills. By remaining calm, actively listening, and showing your confidence, you’ll have a great chance to take this interview and turn it into a career.

What is Oral Communication?

Oral communication can be a high-pressure way to communicate. Unlike written communication, where you have a chance to revise, you have one shot to get your message across. Oral communication has been the primary way we communicate on a day-to-day basis for millions of years according to PLOS ONE. If you can do it well, in many cases, success follows. If you do it poorly you can find yourself in a less-than-convenient situation. Let’s take a look at what exactly oral communication is and why it’s important at work, with friends, and family. 

What is Oral Communication?

Oral communication is the ability to transmit ideas from your brain to either one person or a group of people. Good use of verbal skills means presenting an idea clearly while each thought is articulated in a cohesive manner. It has everything to do with the language that we choose to use. It’s also important to know who your audience is and address them in a way that they comprehend and understand. Your tone is also important as a confident tone can go far when you are expressing an idea as it can help you sound more credible. Good verbal communication often relies on non-verbal cues. These cues, like hand gestures or a raised brow, might put emphasis on a point, show how you feel about what you are saying, and provide insight about the seriousness of a situation. Another important aspect to think about is that good verbal skills go hand-in-hand with excellent listening skills. When used together it becomes much easier to navigate day-to-day encounters at work and in your personal life.

Oral Communication at Work

Being able to present yourself as well as your ideas is important before you even start a job. In fact, the National Association for Colleges and Employers did a study which found that verbal communications skills were the biggest priority when making a new hire. This is probably related to the fact that the ability to work within a team is the second most important quality. According to Medium, we now spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. So being able to communicate well with them is essential. The ability to convey ideas to your co-workers helps the team accomplish a task much more efficiently. It can also help to avoid the negativity and unproductiveness that comes when people aren’t getting along.

The ability to communicate ideas to colleagues or a board of directors in presentations is also important. This can help make you sound more expert when presenting as well as helps you look more professional. Being able to cooperate with other people, present your ideas clearly, and the ability to listen and respond to other people’s ideas will go a long way to help you enjoy your work and help set you down a successful career path.

Oral Communication with Friends

Human beings are social creatures. Studies have shown that people who go out of their way to have a social life are happier in the long term, according to Psychology Today. Oral communication is the cornerstone of social interaction. Doing more to engage others leads to the feeling of being more socially connected, which in turn makes us happier. A key part of making new friends is the ability to ask good questions. This requires active listening (an important part of oral communication) so that you can learn about the other person and get to know someone better. In turn, being able to talk about yourself so that they can get to know you is also important. Someone with good verbal skills will be able to do this in a friendly way that isn’t braggadocious or cocky. Being able to have a balanced conversation, especially when you first meet someone, is a good way to make a new friend.

Of course, oral communication is also important when talking to old friends. Sharing things about yourself, from the deeply personal to the mundane, can lead to less stress in life. Happify reports that people who have substantive conversations with friends are happier than those who only have small talk. So, don’t be afraid to go deep when having a conversation with a friend about what’s going on in your life.

Oral Communication with Family

Open communication among family members helps create strong family bonds that last a lifetime. It’s important to be able to sit down and communicate things like what’s going on in everyone’s life, without judgment, while finding a way to encourage each other. An article published by Virginia Tech reports that families utilize two different kinds of communication. One is clear communication where the family members are open and direct. The other is masked which is when communication is muddied and vague. Family members tend to mask how they feel. This happens when they think they will be met with disapproval or are unhappy with another family member. Masking how you feel might get someone out of an uncomfortable situation in the short term. However, being open and honest about feelings strengthens family bonds in the long term. The same article goes on to say that couples who rate their communication skills highly have happier marriages.

If family members feel unheard, it could help to set some time aside for a family meeting. You can also make it a point to sit down and eat dinner together. Speaking to each other and asking questions about what’s going in each other’s lives with an open mind is what family communication is all about.

Oral communication is important in all aspects of daily life. It is the easiest way to let the people around you know who you are–professionally and socially. By being direct and honest while maintaining an open and positive attitude you are telling the world that you are the type of person who can be trusted with everything from a presentation to the board of directors to helping a family member or friend through a difficult situation. Learning to listen to others and responding in a genuine way is what makes you a good communicator.

Open Letter from a Graduate

To those who have helped me succeed,

Graduation is a great time for reflection on the past four (or even five) years of a college student’s life. During my time in college, I’ve encountered so many helpful people and programs that made this experience easier and more enlightening. Whether you’re reading this as a fellow upcoming grad or a fresh-faced freshman (I worked on that pun for a while), let this open letter be a guide for expressing gratitude to all the ways you’ve received assistance and support along the way.

Your professors are more than just teachers. Sure, they may have guided you through writing classes or helped you to pass chemistry exams, but they’re also resources for life. My professors helped to instill in me the importance of hard work and pushing through difficult lessons. They worked patiently to make sure I understood more than just the lesson plan. How can you show them gratitude for all they’ve done? One great way is to put effort and time into course evaluations. These evaluations are often extremely important for professors, especially those new to the job. Make sure to highlight specific ways the professor helped you or stood out.

Another important group that deserves to be thanked is your family. Perhaps they provided financial support for you, in the form of tuition or room and board. But even if you paid for your own education out of pocket or through scholarships, it’s a safe bet that they were still rooting for you the whole way. Focusing on your studies is, of course, an excellent way to demonstrate your gratitude, but making sure to simply tell them the many ways they encouraged you will go a long way.

College is also a time for establishing and growing the connections you’ll have for a lifetime. Your high school friends are always going to be important, but the folks you met in the dorms, libraries, class, and off-campus living will often be people you know well into adulthood. A study performed by Purdue University found that friends made during college are often long-term, even when a distance is between them. Because people tend to move after college for jobs or relationships, I suggest you take time to let them know how important they are before graduation is over. Throw a party, cook them dinner, or just make plans to hang out more often. Trust me – the best times of my college career were spent with hanging out with buddies, even if weren’t doing much at all.

We often think of colleges as being populated by students and professors. However, there are plenty of working-class folks that help to brighten your college experience. There are custodial staff, maintenance workers, dorm employees, and food court workers that would heartily appreciate your thanks. These are people who may earn the minimum wage or not receive benefits, and who still work hard to keep the spaces around you comfortable.  A card to workers in your dorm or building employees could be a great way to not only say thanks but to establish a new friendship.

Finally, you owe yourself a great deal of gratitude. Whether you’re planning on continuing your studies at a graduate level or heading off into the brave unknown of the working world, you made it through a four-year degree! All those late-night cram sessions, hours spent in the computer lab, or sprints across campus to get to class on time have finally paid off. It can feel bewildering or overwhelming, but if you’re ever struggling to make it through college, it’s always helpful to sit down and make a list of all the things you have to be grateful for in college. Congratulations, wherever you are in your college career. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to try to not cry as I walk across the stage at graduation. Dang, too late!

All the best,

Alpha Kappa Psi

Gratitude vs Gratification

When something makes us feel good, we want more of it. From the late-night snack of a pint of ice cream to the planned week of vacation, we want to feel good. And we usually want it right away! Two of the main ways that we have of feeling good right away are the feelings of gratitude and gratification.

They can both be addicting, but the difference between them is like “the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” as Mark Twain once said. One makes an earthshaking difference and the other creates a fairy twinkle that we all chase from time to time.

That may be a little exaggerated. Let’s look at some hard definitions and see how gratitude vs. gratification actually plays out in the world that we live in today.

The Definitions

Simply put, gratitude is the good feeling we get or the expressions of appreciation that we make when something good happens to us. Most of the time, when we feel thankful, we feel good. It’s not that complicated.

Webster’s dictionary states that it is a “state of being thankful.” Think of the joy that a small child experiences when they get something that they have been wanting for a long time, the look on a loved one’s face when a crisis is averted, or the quiet peace radiating from a completely contented couple in love. In most cases, Psychology Today states that gratitude wants to be shared–you want other people to be just as happy as you are

On the other side of the coin, the state of being gratified is “a source of satisfaction or pleasure.” Remember the feeling as you get a second helping of your favorite dessert? How about the look on a teenager’s face when they level up in their video game of choice? Gratification wants more and more, particularly when you are able to have the feeling extended immediately. This leads to instant gratification, which, as stated by Positive Psychology, can become a real problem.

It’s important to realize that gratification in and of itself is not bad

Practically Speaking

What does this look like in the workplace and at home? Examples abound of both of these happiness generators in action. You may have noticed that someone really likes to fill the printer at work or deeply enjoys watching the coffee brew. These are examples of instant gratification.

At home, similar patterns can play out. Coming home to a clean home that your significant other has just gotten ready for you can spark a large amount of gratitude. When shared between both the cleaner and the one who came home, the evening could be full of happiness and peace.

On the other hand, instant gratification can take the form of a fun night out, an extra dessert, a spontaneous trip and much more. Other forms of gratification include buying a new dress or suit, splurging on something that you’ve been saving up for and so on and so forth.

Think of the days that nothing seems to get done. Sometimes, gratification (in the form of social media, longer lunches, and corridor chatter) gets in the way of getting things done. How about the coworker who loves to bring in tasty homemade goodies to share? They want to please you and themselves, but it is best? Sometimes, it can be trying if you’re on a diet and they insist that you take some of their goodies.

It’s a balancing act that can feel equivalent to walking (and falling) off a tightrope. How can you keep everything together?

The Balance

At the end of the day, gratitude and gratification should not be at war with each other. Rather, they should be balanced to suit you and your individual lifestyle. Sometimes that will lean one way and sometimes it will lean the other way.

The important thing to remember is that gratitude is internal and gratification is external. You need both in order to have the richest experience available to you. After all, both gratitude and gratification are about maximizing your happiness and the happiness of those about you. This is a very good thing indeed.