15 misused words that make smart people look foolish

Commonly Mispronounced Words
Commonly Mispronounced Words

Do not let these common word mistakes trip you up.

My kids make up new words all the time. They are creative, their vocabulary is growing fast, and they cannot always conjure up the right word to describe their feelings or what they are after. But that is okay -- they are still learning. And new words are great for a laugh.

But you are an adult (even if people tell you that it's okay to express your inner child.) And the last thing you want is to sound like a child at the office. But with more than one million English words to choose from, there is plenty of room for error. And some commonly misused words make even the smartest people sound silly.

No one has perfect mastery of the language. At Aha! we work with thousands of the world's brightest product managers and innovators and still hear common word mistakes.

Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. Here are 15 commonly misused words, and the right way to use them.

1. Irregardless

I am not sure how "irregardless" crept into our vocabulary, but the correct word is "regardless."

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2. Literally

This word means "exactly" and "without exaggeration," but many people use it to exaggerate a point. When you say "I literally died right there," you can understand the other person's shock to see you alive and well.

3. Excetera

The correct spelling and pronunciation is "et cetera." Remember that "et" is Latin for "and," while "cetera" means "the other things."

4. Supposably

It may be easier to say "supposably," but the correct spelling and pronunciation is "supposedly" with a "d."

5. Preemptory

The correct word is "peremptory," and it means "leaving no opportunity for refusal." You may confuse this word with "preempt," which means "to prevent."

6. Realator

The correct pronunciation and spelling is "realtor." There is no "a" in the middle.

7. Expresso

The correct spelling and pronunciation is "espresso" (even if you get your order really fast.)

8. Australia

Many people commonly pronounce it "Ostraya," leaving out the "l" sound.

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9. Heighth

People tack on the "th" because of the similar words length and width. But the correct spelling and pronunciation is "height."

10. Anyways

It may seem like a small issue, but the correct word is "anyway."

11. Adverse vs. averse

These two words are easy to confuse because they both mean something negative. Adverse means "unfavorable," while "averse" means "having a feeling of dislike."
Example: "I had an adverse reaction to the medication." "She is averse to hard work."

12. There vs. their

People often confuse these two sound-alikes. "There" is a location, while "their" is a possessive.
Examples: "We are going there next week." "Their house was robbed while they were away."

13. Premise vs. premises

Some people think that "premises" is the plural form of "premise." "Premise" means an assumption, while "premises" is a building and surrounding lands.
Example: "The premise of the article was that the city's finances are in trouble." "We asked the man to leave the premises."

14. Affect vs. effect

These two words can be tricky, but remember that "affect" is usually a verb and "effect" is a noun that means "the result of something."
Example: "I wonder how the storm will affect our plans." "The storm had the effect of delaying all flights."

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15. Irreverent vs. irrelevant

"Irreverent" means to "not take something seriously," while "irrelevant" means "not pertinent."
Example: "I appreciate your irreverent wit." "That fact is interesting but irrelevant to the case."

Like it or not, the way that you speak creates a positive or negative impression about you.

So do not let your words become a stumbling block -- and stand in the way of your success. You can improve your command of the language and communicate with more confidence.

Can you think of other words that people often confuse?

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Originally published