14 Everyday Words That You Are Using Incorrectly

Odds are that you confuse these on a daily basis

Shourya Agarwal
7 min readJun 11, 2021


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 grammarian is unsparingly humiliating, it's high time all of us steer clear of getting hoodwinked by these fourteen words.


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. 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 to 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.


Further(adv): to a greater degree or extent

Usually, we deploy ‘further’ interchangeably with its kinsman, ‘farther’. When talking about distance people substitute one for the other, holding no distinction between ‘farther away’ and ‘further away’. However, we got to be mindful of the subtle difference between these two. Merriam Webster contests that ‘further’ is used when referring to figurative distance whereas ‘farther’ is better suited for physical separation. Hence, we are further away from racial equality while Mars is farther away from Venus. Only a letter distinguishing this nuance, it’s very easy to mistake these two.


Continual(adj): 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.


Nauseous(adj) : causing nausea or disgust

Oftentimes, we use ‘nauseous’ as a synonym for ‘disgusted’. People would describe how certain words or actions made them ‘nauseous’. However, language purists object to this usage, reinforcing the razor-thin difference between ‘nauseous’ and ‘nauseated’. While ‘nauseated’ is the apt choice to describe feeling pukish, ‘nauseous’ actually refers to the object that elicits such a feeling. Therefore, if one is nauseated at the sight of meat, meat is nauseous for them. Because the words are used exchangeably in common parlance, you are unlikely to get into major trouble for the mix-up. At the same time, it only helps to be aware of this subtle linguistic nuance.


Discrete(adj): 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.


Travesty(n): a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation

‘Travesty’ is erroneously used as an equivalent of ‘tragedy’, but the two words have remarkable differences. ‘Tragedy’ refers to a horrific event that evokes pathos while ‘travesty’ is an absurd event that generates disapproval or irony. So, ‘travesty’ of truth would imply a bad imitation of honesty when ‘tragedy’ of truth would mean the calamitous weight of reality. Owing to the large variance, it is worthwhile to be clear of the distinction. Knowing the difference between these two will save you from garnering ridicule with your grammarista friends.


Loath(adj): 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(adj): 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.


Slander(n): A false spoken statement about someone that damages their reputation

With the advent of Twitter as a vehicle of stringent political criticism, ‘slander’ has become a word that is often thrown around. As governments all over the globe try to curtail this so-called, ‘slander’, it is important to be mindful of the correct terminology. Linguists would warn against confusing ‘slander’ with ‘libel’, which is the word reserved for written statements causing defamation. Contrastingly, ‘slander’ usually applies exclusively to spoken remarks. In that light, objectionable tweets may be classified as libel, not slander. In fact, many countries have separate laws for these two different mechanisms of causing injury, making it important to know the difference between the two.


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.


Regretful(adj): full of regret; feeling regret

Regretful is frequently confused with regrettable in everyday speech. Mistakenly, a lot of us use ‘regretful’ to describe unfortunate situations. From ‘regretful’ earthquakes to ‘regretful’ demise, the discrepancy is prevalent across the board. But, it turns out ‘regretful’ is reserved for describing personal feelings of regret, and ‘regrettable’ is the adjective cut out for disastrous situations. For example, we are regretful of the regrettable loss of life in Palestine. As just a syllable is all that separates two different semantic fields, it’s advisable to be cognizant of this distinction.


Anticipate(v): to give advanced thought or action

More often than not, anticipate is treated as a synonym of ‘estimate’, something which is not entirely true. Though both the words have to do with predicting an event, they have slightly divergent connotations in regards to the prediction. ‘Anticipate’ implies that a certain level of precaution has been observed concerning the prediction whereas ‘estimate’ signifies measuring the scale of the event. At the outset, the distinction may seem inconsequential but it may translate into a significant disparity in the real world. For example, the gap between our anticipation and estimation of such a widescale pandemic culminated in more than three million skeletons.


Ultimate(adj): last in a progression or series

Ultimate is unusually prone to miscommunication because its colloquial use is very different from its actual meaning. By analogously using with ‘grand’ we often neglect its implications around finality. If unaware of this incongruity, you can land yourself in hilariously awkward circumstances. Imagine posting an Instagram story about the ultimate joy you felt in your life; you would be instantly flooded by messages ranging from confused to panicked. Therefore, out of love for our friends, let us steer clear of muddling this one.

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, and let’s save each other from embarrassing situations.

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Shourya Agarwal
Writer for

A bewildered star gazer drifting from distortion to discovery.