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25 Common Phrases That You're Saying Wrong - Lifehack


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The phrases on the left are incorrect, the ones on the right are correct.

1: Nip it in the butt vs. Nip it in the budNipping something in the bud means that you’re putting an end to it before it has a chance to grow or start. Nipping something in the butt means you’re biting its behind.

2: I could care less vs. I couldn’t care lessSaying that you could care less about a topic implies that you do care about it at least a little. What you usually mean is that you don’t care about the topic at all, hence “I couldn’t care less”.

3: One in the same vs.One and the sameWhen you really sit and think about it, “one in the same” doesn’t mean anything at all. The correct phrase “one and the same” means that two things are the same.

4: You’ve got another thing coming vs. You’ve got another think comingThis is one of those phrases where the incorrect usage actually does make sense and has become its own phrase. But it’s still technically wrong. In fact, most people don’t even know the correct phrase unless they look it up (I sure didn’t). The correct version really only makes sense if you use the entire sentence “if that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.”

5: Each one worse than the next vs. Each one worse than the lastUnless you can foresee the future, “each one worse than the next” doesn’t make sense.The problem with this phrase is that it isn’t logical. For example, you can’t compare two bicycles until you’ve tested them both. So logically, you would compare the current bicycle to the last bike you tested.

6: On accident vs. By accidentSometimes I feel very sorry for people attempting to learn English. With phrases like this, it must be awful. You can do something on purpose, but not on accident. Prepositions are a killer.

7: Statue of limitations vs. Statute of limitationsWhenever I think of these two phrases, I get reminded of one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever.

8: For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposesYou may feel very strongly and intense about your purpose, but that doesn’t make the phrase correct. Another common incorrect use of the phrase is switching the words “for” and “with”. The correct phrase means that you are covering all possibilities and circumstances.

9: He did good vs. He did wellThe phrases good and well get interchanged so much that some people think they are actually interchangeable words. They’re not. If you’re ever confused about which to use, here’s a tip: Use “well” as an adverb (words used to describe verbs) and “good” as an adjective (words used to describe nouns). For example:

  • The dog runs well
  • He is a good dog

10: Extract revenge vs. Exact revengeWhen you extract something, you’re taking it out of something else. When you exact onto something, you’re dishing it out. Therefore, extracting revenge on someone would mean you’re taking out that person’s revenge. Exacting revenge onto them means that you’re taking your revenge out on them.

11: Old timer’s disease vs. Alzheimer’s DiseaseThis one is just kind of silly. It’s really a mistake that we make when we’re younger. As we get older and actually learn about what Alzheimer’s Disease is, we have the sense to say the word correctly.

12: I’m giving you leadway vs. I’m giving you leewayLeadway actually isn’t even a word. Leeway means extra space and freedom.

13: Aks vs. AskYou don’t aks/axe for things. You ask for them. I’m now sure when the “s” and “k” got switched but it happens all the time when people talk.

14: What’s your guyses opinion? vs. What’s your opinion, guys?I’ll leave this explanation to the Urban Dictionary:

completely and utterly useless phrase people up north use in the place of ya’ll. it means you guys, but they just have to be stupid and (besides not using the much simpler phrase ya’ll) add -es to the phrase “you guys”. As I have said many times with great wisdomosity, ya’ll is much simplier to say.

15: Expresso vs. EspressoI’m sure those of you who work at coffee shops have had people order an expresso before. There’s no such drink. The drink you’re trying to order is an espresso.

16: Momento vs. MementoMomento isn’t a word. A memento is a keepsake.

17: Irregardless vs. RegardlessRegardless means without regard. Throwing on “IR” to the beginning makes the word a double negative. I think we can all agree that “without without regard”doesn’t make sense.

18: Sorta vs. Sort ofThe phrase “sort of” was too long so someone decided to shorten it up and turn it into sorta. I think its just sorta lazy.

19: Conversating vs. ConversingDrop the “on” and add an “ng” and you have yourself a new verb right? Wrong. Conversating is an unofficial word that a lot of people use in place of the correct term, conversing.

20: Scotch free and Scott free vs. Scot freeI’ve seen so many explanations of the origins of the phrase “Scot free” that I really don’t know where it came from. But what I do know is that Scotch free and Scott free are incorrect.

21: I made a complete 360 degree change in my life vs. I made a complete 180 degree change in my lifePeople say they’ve made a complete 360 degree change in their life to imply that they’ve completely changed from the way they used to be. However, going 360 degrees means that you’ve returned to the exact same place you started. Which would mean you didn’t change at all. A 180 degree change would mean that you are the complete opposite which is what most people are trying to say.

22: Curl up in the feeble position vs. Curl up in the fetal positionFeeble means weak and frail. So in a way, curling up in a feeble position isn’t too far off. However, the actual fetal position that people are referring to is the curled up position that fetuses use while in the womb.

23: Phase vs. FazeThe word “phase” is usually used when talking about periods of time or stages. For instance, “Bob’s interest in the iPhone 5 was just a phase.” However, phase is often mistakenly used in place of the word faze, which means to disrupt. Here’s a paragraph from an article that shows the common mistake.

EAT 5:53: Uganda 2-1 Angola. Five minutes of added time, can the Cranes hang on? Cranes coach Micho Sedojevic unphased, but still urges the boys to hang on. Cranes piling the pressure

24: Hone in vs. Home inThe word hone means to sharpen or improve somehow. For example, you can hone your speaking skills. To home in on something means to get closer to it.“We’re homing in on a cure for cancer”.

25: Brother in laws vs. Brothers in lawIf your wife or husband has several siblings, they’re called your “brothers/sisters in law”. I’m about to get a little grammar nerdy with my explanation so get ready. The general rule of thumb for making a compound noun plural is to add a “s” to the noun that there’s more of. In our case, the words brother and law are both nouns. Since the word you’re pluralizing is brother, you add an “s” to it, not law.

Wow, I am humbled.

This is a great list -- I had heard most of these, but not "feeble position". :-) The argument for "another think coming" makes a lot of sense.

However, I do take issue with a few of them:

6. On accident vs. by accident: this is a regionalism. The very cool work collecting dialects of English (and the mapping of it at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~jakatz2/project-dialect.html) has this phrase in particular; it's number 98 (seems more prevalent in Texas, Wisconsin, and parts of the west). Given that we can say "on purpose", I can see why "on accident" seems logical.

13: Aks vs. Ask: these two pronunciations go back 1000 years and the "aks" one is in Chaucer and Beowulf: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/01/added-bonus-irregardless-of-what-you-think-quot-conversate-quot-is-a-word/6549/ . That same article also addresses 19: Conversating vs. Conversing.

18: Sorta vs. Sort of: I can't tell if the author is objecting to talking like this or writing, but it seems to be really normal speech (alongside "gonna", and "woulda, coulda, shoulda").

The most common mistake I hear is "he is smarter than me"  instead of "he is smarter than I."  What you're really saying is "he is smarter than I am." 

Thank you, Geege. Me not so smart.

I remember being corrected on that one, not so long ago!

Well, I appreciate your sharing. Other than its / it's and there / their / they're and your / you're are there any other grammer snafus that come to mind?

"... so he doesn't get ran over" - recently heard on a commercial.  Peeve.

What's it supposed to be? Run over?

Yes.  It's a tense thing.  To get run over.

"Smarter than me" and "smarter than I" are both considered acceptable by the Usage Panel (the American Heritage dictionary assembles a panel of writers, thinkers, and artists who weigh in on grammar and usage questions); from http://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=than&submit.x=-848&submit.y=-210 :

Usage Note: Since the 1700s, grammarians have insisted that than should be regarded as a conjunction in all its uses, so that a sentence such as Bill is taller than Tom should be construed as an elliptical version of the sentence Bill is taller than Tom is. According to this view, the case of a pronoun following than is determined by whether the pronoun serves as the subject or object of the verb that is "understood." Thus, the standard rule requires Pat is taller than I (not me) on the assumption that this sentence is elliptical for Pat is taller than I am. But the rule allows The news surprised Pat more than me, because this sentence is taken as elliptical for The news surprised Pat more than it surprised me. But this analysis is somewhat contrived. Than is quite commonly treated as a preposition when followed by an isolated noun phrase, and it often occurs with a pronoun in the objective case: John is taller than me. In such sentences using the nominative case (than I) can sound unnatural and even pretentious, and objecting to the objective case of the pronoun may sound pedantic.[...]

Thanks for contributing!  

More from Charles Carson, managing editor of the journal American Speech, via Grammar Girl:

The quick and dirty tip to determining which pronoun is appropriate after the conjunction than is to figure out the pronoun’s role in the implied sentence by mentally filling in the missing words. Are you trying to say Aardvark likes Squiggly more than I [like Squiggly] or Aardvark likes Squiggly more than [Aardvark likes] me? Sometimes, even if you use the correct pronoun, you may find sentences like I'm taller than he sound too formal in casual setting. If so, you can use a verb to complete the implied sentence, saying instead, I'm taller than he is. With a verb present, the choice is obvious: subject pronouns are the only option. After all, both sides of the than he/than him debate agree that No bunny knows Easter better than he does. "  (Cadbury's ad is "Nobody knows Easter better than him.")

Me:  Add the verb!  Everyone wins!

- See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/i-versus-me#sthash.cawWiieB.dpuf

Who Wins? So the battle continues: the conjunctionists have history and the avoidance of ambiguity on their side, while the prepositionists have than whom and several counterexamples on theirs. Who wins? I believe Ken Wilson sums it up best in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (3):

Than is both a subordinating conjunction, as in She is wiser than I am, and a preposition, as in She is wiser than me.... Since the following verb am is often dropped or “understood,” we regularly hear than I and than me. Some commentators believe that the conjunction is currently more frequent than the preposition, but both are unquestionably Standard.

So remember, than he and than him are both defensible, but not all grammar mavens feel this way. Therefore, I would avoid the prepositional use in formal settings, such as a research paper or job interview—and I would argue, advertising, but Cadbury obviously feels otherwise. The usage note in The American Heritage Dictionary (4) agrees: “The writer who risks a sentence like Mary is taller than him in formal writing must be prepared to defend the usage against objections of critics.” Unfortunately, defending your grammar during an interview is not the best way to make a good impression. 

Thanks for that article! It was informative. Seeing these quotations from Shakespeare and Swift in the article sort of sealed for me that this is more of a prescriptivist kind of debate; if people have been talking and writing like this for 300 years, I think that's pretty well-established :-)

A man no mightier than thyself or me / In personal action, yet prodigious grown / And fearful, as these strange eruptions are (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1700);

And, though by Heaven’s severe Decree / She suffers hourly more than me. (Jonathan Swift, “To Stella, Visiting Me in Sickness,” 1720).

Honestly, it says so much about people today if they can stuff up such widely know & VERY SIMPLE phrases!

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