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.”
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.”
a lot: should always be two words. “Alot” is not a word.
Ambivalent: having mixed or conflicting feelings about something
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.
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)
Bunch: things that come in clusters. It is not an accepted substitute for the word “group.”
Continuous: an unbroken whole, free of interruptions.
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.
Notorious: famous or well known, usually for something negative.
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.