7 Common Words That You Are Using Incorrectly

Odds are that you use these phrases every day

Source: Pexels

As a non-native English speaker, I hardly spend a day without being bumped by the language. I am all too familiar with the embarrassment of being called out for using a word that didn’t mean what I thought it meant. Most of the time it gnaws at my confidence at others I can’t help but laugh at the confusion conjured by just a syllable out of place. Over the years, I have come to realize that this malapropism is not just limited to language learners. In fact, with the near-maddening mutations in the language on the internet, native speakers are just as likely to get duped into incorrect usage. As the perennial grin of the ‘grammarista’ is unsparingly humiliating, its high time all of us steer clear of getting hoodwinked by these seven


Poisonous(ad): (of a substance or plant) causing or capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body.

Usually, we use this one interchangeably with venomous to signify anything that contains toxins. But, it turns out that both linguists and biologists see a thick line that separates poisonous from venomous. It turns out that poisonous only works if the agent transmits its toxin when we eat it. So, an apple can be poisonous just like a well can be. However, creatures like snakes and wasps are not poisonous because they actively inject their toxins into their prey. Therefore, for the sake of correctness, they should be called ‘venomous’. Although the distinction is extremely technical, it is enough to make a biologist buddy momentarily second-guess dining with you when you tell them about your encounter with a ‘poisonous’ snake.


Utilize(v): to turn to practical use

For most of us utilize is just a polished substitute for ‘use’. However, that’s simply not the case. Utilize implies putting something in use which was useless before, like how the body utilizes carbohydrates. In a sense, utilize means ‘convert to use’ rather than to simply make use of. Vapingo believes that not knowing the distinction between use and utilize is the most grammatical mix-up mistake people make all over the world. I guess the world could definitely use your help in ensuring that more people use utilize correctly.


Continual(ad): happening repeatedly, usually in an annoying or not convenient way

‘Continual’ ranks high on Grammarly’s list of commonly misused words. Most confusion arises due to mistaking the word with its close cousin, continuous. While ‘continuous’ describes an action that goes on without a pause, ‘continual’ refers to a completed task repeated over a number of iterations. So, if when we say that it was raining continually we are actually implying that rainfall took place on multiple occasions and not one prolonged one. With such a slim difference, you got to be careful of this one.


Discrete(ad): clearly separate or different in shape or form

Discrete is particularly prone to improper use due to confusion with its homophone, discreet. It is important to remember that the words are linked only phonetically and have little semantic association in the modern context. While discrete is used to refer to separate entities like data-sets in mathematics and computer science, discreet refers to being private, unnoticeable, or showing good conduct. You should be careful with these words because a misuse here might lead you to describe a discrete situation as inconspicuous.


Loath(ad): unwilling to do something contrary to one’s ways of thinking

Loath is often confused with the similar-sounding loathe is a verb that means ‘to dislike’. The two words are nothing alike and using them interchangeably can result in hilarious mishaps, more so when the verb, ‘to be’ is dropped. You might actually end up texting, “I loathe going out for dinner with you” when you just meant that you were reluctant to dine out that day[Thanks to Auto-correct]. This mix-up can trigger some serious emotional response from the other side and therefore, it only helps to be crystal clear about this one.


Viable(ad): Capable of surviving

Viable and feasible are used interchangeably but they actually imply varying levels of ability. While viable means that something can survive, feasible refers to an action that is easy to perform. As in, a viable candidate must have a feasible plan. By confusing the two, you can end up giving the listener a wrong indication about how conveniently can an action be undertaken. In a world, where risk assessment constitutes the lion’s share of most business decisions, it is absolutely crucial to be sure about where these two words stand.


Dissemble(v): to hide under a false appearance

Dissemble is unfortunately confused far too frequently with the similarly-spelled disassemble, meaning to take apart. Due to the opposing meaning of the verbs confusing them together conveys a completely contrasting meaning than intended. For example, “Bob, how can you manage to dissemble each fact so elaborately.” Over, here Bob would be taken aback at the unwarranted accusation being slashed at him. For all intents and purposes, it is advisable to be clear about the context before using this word.

These are some of the words which I have learned about after years of incorrect usage. I had been fortunate to not land in too much trouble with the misunderstanding with these ones. Perhaps, someone else might not be lucky enough to get a word right before landing in an awkward spot with it. Therefore, please share some words which may have stumped you for everyone’s betterment.

More by Shourya Agarwal

A bewildered star gazer thrusting from distortion to discovery.

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