Frequently Misused Words in English – Even Experts Make These Mistakes!

Anyone who tells you they have attained mastery to a certain level in English is a liar. There are so many nuances and contexts related to usage of several words in the English language that even lecturers, professors and PhDs can’t claim to know it all. You can only get better in English, but never reach the level of perfection.

That’s why it’s important to stress on amplifying your learning efforts – just knowing basic communication won’t cut it as you further progress in your career. You need to know clear and concise English and this includes using the correct word in the correct scenario. There are several words that are frequently misused in English. We all have been guilty of misusing more than one of these following words in our lifetime, and maybe are still unaware of their correct usage!

Here is everything you should know about these often-misused words:


This word is liberally used as a synonym for ‘annoy’ or ‘exasperate’. That’s incorrect. The true meaning is ‘to increase the gravity of’ or ‘to make worse’.

E.g. His illness was aggravated by the tropical climate.


When we say that a statement is ‘literally true’ we mean that it is not to be understood figuratively or metaphorically.

E.g. The new fleet of 54 omnibuses will literally ‘eat up’ waiting crowds. à This is incorrect as eat up is itself meant to be taken metaphorically.


This word must not be used as a synonym for ‘person’. An ‘individual’ is a single, separate person, as opposed to a group.

E.g. In a totalitarian state, absolute power is in the hands of an individual.


The word ‘mutual is sometimes incorrectly used in place of ‘common’. The most glaring error can be seen in Facebook and its use of ‘mutual friends’.

Mutual implies an action or relation between two or more persons or things. Though the word ‘mutual’ has come to be accepted in general English for friends, it is still not deemed correct by English language purists.

E.g. The two parties could never work together successfully because of their mutual suspicion.


Here is some good advice for you – completely avoid using ‘nice’ for different adjectives e.g. nice day, nice hat, nice man, nice taste etc.

Use the precise adjectives required by the content.


This is often wrongly used as a synonym for ‘happen’.

It actually means to breathe through or become known.


This word is colloquially used in sentences like:

‘That’s a good idea.’

‘The idea has received so much support.’

While writing English, we should avoid using ‘idea’ as a synonym for ‘plan’, ‘principle’, ‘cause’ and ‘scheme’.


Differ is commonly confused with ‘vary’. This is incorrect. Differ should never be followed by ‘according to’.

E.g. This colour differs from that.

I differ from you in opinion.


Infer is sometimes wrongly used for ‘imply’.

Here is an incorrect example: ‘The last sentence of his letter infers that he has not yet resigned his appointment.

Here ‘implies’ must be used. Or we could correctly say, ‘I infer from the last sentence that he has not yet resigned.’

Indulge In

Indulge in should apply only to pleasures or amusements. There is a tendency nowadays to give it a slipshod extension or application where ‘engage in’ should be used.


Mostly is another word that is over-worked and tends to appear frequently in the following sentences:

  • Motor lorries are now mostly used for transport of heavy goods.
  • This newspaper is mostly bought by the poorer classes.

In the first case, mostly should be replaced by ‘generally’. In the second case, using ‘chiefly’ sounds more elegant.


Job is another overused word. Its actual use is very limited in the correct context, if you refer to a dictionary. You should instead use ‘post’, ‘appointment’, ‘task’ etc.


Factor suffers badly from vague use by careless writers. A ‘factor’ is one of the elements, circumstances of influences that contribute to a result. It should not be used unless the notion of contribution to a result is present.

E.g. Education is an indispensable factor in national progress.


Populace must not be confused with ‘people’ or ‘population’.

Populace means the ‘common people’.


This word is often needlessly used instead of ‘number’ or ‘proportion’. Its use should be restricted to the sphere of mathematical calculations, and is incorrect to use in cases like:

‘A large percentage of the congregation paid no attention to the sermon.’


It is often confused with ‘uninterested’. To be disinterested in a matter is to be without self-interest in it i.e. to be impartial and detached.


Exotic does not mean ‘luxurious’ or ‘lavish’ as many who use the word think. Its proper sense is ‘introduced from abroad’ and is applied to fashions, words, plants etc.

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