Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Commonly Misused Words
Take your pick:
Commonly Misused Words
Common Core: 7.L.4

Commonly Misused Words

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson discusses words that are commonly misused.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

46 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

299 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 33 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.



The misuse of a word is a misunderstanding of what that word really means. It is not uncommon for certain words to be misused commonly.

Some words are misused because they sound similar to another word (the word the writer or speaker intended to use), or they appear to be interchangeable with another word, such as “affect” and “effect.”


Some words are misused because their misuse became informally accepted, such as “irregardless,” which isn’t a word, but is often used as one anyway.


Here is a cheat sheet of some of the most commonly misused words.


Affect and Effect: Affect is usually used as a verb that means “to influence behavior or outcome.” Effect is usually used as a noun describing the result of something, but it can also be used as a verb that means “to bring about” or “to produce.”

  • That earthquake affected me more than I would have thought. 
  • It is clear that these events effected great change in our community. 
  • The immediate effect is the addition of stop signs on every corner downtown.


Aggravate: to intensify a problem, injury, or existing condition or make it worse. “Aggravate” does not mean “to annoy or irritate.” Millions of people use the word “aggravate” when they mean to use the word “irritate” or “annoy.”

  • This toothache is aggravating my migraine. 


a lot: should always be two words. “Alot” is not a word.

  • There are a lot of things you need to know about how muscles work.


Ambivalent: having mixed or conflicting feelings about something

  • Susan was ambivalent when it came to moving across town: she neither loved nor hated the idea of living closer to work.


Anticipate: The formal meaning of the word “anticipate” is “to be aware of something that will happen and take steps to be prepared for it.” Although it is commonly misused to simply mean “expect” or “predict,” it’s formal meaning is the most specific and academically accepted use.

  • I had anticipated that you would respond in that way, so we prepared a nice severance package in advance for you. 


Bad: an adjective (which means that it is used to describe nouns and pronouns, not verbs)

Badly: an adverb (which means that it describes verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, not nouns)

  • I feel bad about what happened. 
  • It was badly managed. 

Bunch: things that come in clusters. It is not an accepted substitute for the word “group.”


Continuous: an unbroken whole, free of interruptions.

  • "It's a Small World" was played on a continuous loop in the background; as soon as it ended, the song began again. Eventually, I could not tell if it ever even ended. 

Disinterested and Uninterested: Disinterested means to be impartial or unbiased, while Uninterested means to lack any sort of interest in the topic or matter at hand. A judge is disinterested, while your little brother is likely uninterested.


Good and Well: Good is an adjective that describes nouns and pronouns. Well is an adverb that modifies verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, but it can also be a deep hole in the ground that usually provides access to an underground water source.

  • If you dig well, you should come dig our well. We will pay you well because we are good people.


Notorious: famous or well known, usually for something negative.

  • Marky Mark, notorious for dropping his pants on stage in front of thousands, eventually made a name for himself as a rapper and an actor. 

Unique: means “one of a kind” and it should never be used with intensifiers such as “very” or “more” or “most” because something is either unique or it isn’t. There is no separation beyond that. 

  • Fingerprints are unique to each person.

Commonly Misused Words