What if I tell you that most of the words you use in everyday life might not actually mean what you think they meant? And that you’ve probably been misusing quite a few of them?

Don’t believe me? Okay then.

I’m sure you know how to use the word data. Or to be more correct, I’m sure you think you know how to use the word data.

Data is actually the plural form of the singular word ‘datum’, which has been misused to such an extent that it is now an acceptable word in everyday conversation. There are many such words in the ever evolving English language that are wrongly used interchangeably.


1) Literally

Definition: in a literal manner or sense; exactly.

It’s funny how most people seem to use the word in its exact opposite sense, in order to convey the magnitude of the situation or emphasize on it. So the next time you’re ‘literally’ having a cardiac arrest, you better be on your way to the emergency room!


2) Electrocute








Definition: kill (someone) by electric shock.

The rules on the usage of this word might be slightly shaky since it also includes injuries owing to electric shocks. However, the slight sting you get from your microwave doesn’t qualify as electrocution – because you wouldn’t live to tell the tale!


3) Complementary







Definition: combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another.

This word is often misused in place of ‘complimentary’, which means praising or approving. Complementary, on the other hand refers to something matching or filling with something else, which really isn’t complimenting your vocabulary.


4) Disinterested

Definition: not influenced by considerations of personal advantage.

Often used synonymously with uninterested, the meanings of these two words have now evolved from their original meanings. However, disinterested still means not having vested interests in anything and thereby being impartial. For example, if someone says they’re not interested in parties, they’re uninterested which goes to mean they find it boring or unworthy of their time.


5) Penultimate

Definition: last but one in a series of things; second last.

Have you ever used this word in an attempt to sound smarter or fancier? There’s a good chance that you may have used it incorrectly to communicate something better than ultimate, when it in fact refers to the second last item. A lot of the confusion has to do with changing definitions as well as ignorance – but nobody said English was easy!


6) Affect (vs. Effect)

Definition: make a difference to.

What list of misused words is complete without this gem? It really is the cornerstone of incorrect vocabulary, since affect actually means having an effect on something while effect is the direct result or impact of something that has affected you. Do you see?


7) Inflammable

Definition: easily set on fire.

This is not the opposite of the word flammable, as most people tend to assume. Ironically, it means exactly the same thing, which is a substance that could easily catch fire. The word you’re actually looking for is ‘non flammable’.


8) Nonplussed

Definition: so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react.

Contrary to popular belief, nonplussed doesn’t mean being unimpressed by something. The opposite of that is true however – since this word denotes being so bewildered by something you’re unsure of what to do! Grammar enthusiasts often find themselves nonplussed by the overwhelming misusage of nonplussed.


9) Nauseous

Definition: causing nausea.

When you say you’re nauseated, it means you’re about to be sick. However, if you say you’re nauseous, it means you’re the reason people get sick! People still tend to differ on the right usage of this word, and it mostly depends on how much of a stickler for grammar you are. It’s hard to please nausea!

Do you feel a little unsettled by all this new information? Is that even the right usage of the word? With all its complexities, errors in English can often lead to embarrassing situations at work or home. Unsure of what to do? Leave your editing worries to PaperTrue!