14 Commonly Misused Words in English

Everyone likes to believe that they understand how to use the English language. However, as we grow older, we start to lose our grasp of how the language works. As we hear people use English in the wrong ways over time, we end up losing control over the language. For instance, you might refer to something as a cliché as an adjective when in reality a cliché is a noun.

There are many other words that people misuse all the time. Take a look at this listing and see if you have been misusing these words. Odds are you might begin to question whether you even understand the English language at all.

1. Acute and Chronic

Acute and chronic are often misused when it comes to discussing illnesses. Acute means sharp and fast. An acute illness is one that increasingly becomes worse and reaches a breaking point. Chronic means that a severe illness is lasting for a long period of time and won’t go away easily.

For instance, when a person has an acute asthma attack, it is an attack that gets worse very quickly and potentially requires hospitalization. Chronic asthma is when a person experiences symptoms of the condition on and off over the course of several years.

2. Bemused

When you are amused, you become interested in something. When you are bemused, you are confused. Many people use “bemused” when they are supposed to say “amused.”

3. Disinterested

People often say they are disinterested when they are not interested in something. When you say you aren’t interested, you should say that you are uninterested instead.

When you are disinterested, you do not hold a bias. This means that you don’t side with one specific party. You could have an interest but you’re not entrenched in one’s camp. You are not concerned about something when you are disinterested. This is different from being uninterested where you really have no interest in something at all.

4. Enervate

Enervate means to weaken something. It is the opposite of energize. When you say that something is enervating, you mean that it drains your energy.

5. Guarantee and Guaranty

A guaranty is an assurance of the performance of a product or service. It is often a security to fulfill something of value.

A guarantee is a person who benefits from such a guaranty. In other words, when you hear something talk about a “money-back guarantee,” that entity is supposed to say that it is a “money-back guaranty” and that you are a “guarantee” who could benefit from it.

6. Irony

Irony is the opposite of something that is expected or appropriate. For instance, a center for helping people to recover from overeating might be in the same building as some restaurant that offers lots of dangerously fatty foods. This is an example of irony. It would be more appropriate for such a building to have a restaurant that serves heart-healthy foods.

7. Travesty

Many people think that a travesty is a mockery of something. In reality, a travesty refers to a tragic event or some other extremely unfortunate event.

8. Ultimate

People often believe that ultimate refers to the best of something. However, ultimate actually means the last item on a numbered or organized list.

For instance, the term “refute” on this listing of misused words is the ultimate item. That doesn’t mean that “refute” is the most important of the misused words. It is just the last of the misused words listed on this report.

9. Literally

Many people use the word literally to explain something figurative. However, literally refers to something that actually happens. In other words, you cannot say that you literally did something unless you actually did that thing you mentioned.

10. Parcel and Partial

A parcel is a division of land or an item that has been wrapped to be shipped out. A partial is a part of something. In many cases the misuse of words here relates to how the two words sound and look alike. In addition, they are only divided by a few letters in the middle.

11. Reluctant and Reticent

When you are reluctant, you are not willing to do something. When you are reticent, you are quiet and not willing to be verbal. In other words, reticent relates to being silent while reluctant relates to total inactivity beyond what you say.

12. Peruse

You often think that when you peruse something, you are leaving through something and browsing to find it. You might say that you are perusing through your wallet to find a card.

The truth about the word is that when you peruse something, you are observing something with extreme care. For instance, when you look through your wallet, you are browsing. When you are identifying the individual things on your credit cards including codes and terms, you are perusing. This is because you are going in-depth on all the very specific items featured on the inside.

13. Compelled

You are not feeling like you want to do something when you are compelled to do it. You are actually being compelled to do something when you are being forced into doing it or you feel an extreme sense of obligation to do it. You might not want to do it but you have to because someone is forcing or compelling you to do it. This is not the case when you voluntarily have a desire for doing something.

14. Refute

When you refute something, you are proving that something is wrong. You are not trying to allege that someone is wrong. Rather, you are simply stating that something is wrong. Refute comes from the Latin for a word relating to pushing back. It is similar to rebut, a word that also comes from the Latin for pushing back. However, rebut refers to a blow that knocks one back. Refute relates to the process of proving something wrong.


You must watch for how you use the English language. Take a careful look at how you use words and what they mean so you clearly understand what you are doing with it no matter what you write.


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