Commonly Misused Words & Phrases

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

The English language has plenty of commonly misused words and phrases, and sometimes they can convey entirely different meanings. In this lesson, we will learn about misused words and phrases in the English language.


For all intensive purposes--wait, all intents and purposes--this lesson is going to teach you all about commonly misused words and phrases. Did you catch that error? Most folks wouldn't. There are dozens of words and phrases in the English language, like ''all intents and purposes,'' that native speakers misuse every single day. Most errors have to do with hearing and comprehension. By the end of this lesson, you will have learned about the most commonly misused words and phrases, so you can avoid these issues.

Misused Words

Among vs. Between

Between you and me, it can be hard to remember which word, between or among, is appropriate for certain sentences. Let's set the record straight: ''among'' is used for things that are part of a group that contains three or more like items, and ''between'' is used with two or more specific items. Look at these examples:

  • The conversation between America, Ireland, and Scotland went well.
  • The conversation among the countries went well.

See the difference? It's all about specificity.

Like vs. As

The words ''like'' and ''as'' are used interchangeably, but unfortunately, those substitutions are incorrect. Both words compare two things; the main difference between the two words is that ''like'' almost always precedes a noun clause, and ''as'' almost always precedes a clause with a verb. Moreover, the word ''like'' is a preposition, used to point out what a noun is doing when, where, and how. On the other hand, ''as'' acts like a conjunction to connect two clauses in a sentence. It's easier to look at examples:

Correct usage of like:

  • The man is behaving like a baby.
  • The girl loves me like a brother.
  • The tree has leaves like emeralds.

Correct usage of as:

  • She makes pie as my grandmother does.
  • The professor isn't as smart as he used to be.
  • The lion runs as if he were a giraffe.

Mass and Count Words

Some nouns can be counted and others cannot, leading to loads of misuse. Count nouns can be counted with a number, while mass nouns cannot be counted with a number. Let's look at the rules for count nouns and mass nouns. After that, we will go over some examples.

  • Count nouns can be preceded by the words ''a'', ''an,'' ''one,'' or ''many.''
  • Count nouns can be singular or plural.
  • Count nouns can be plants, animals, bugs, objects that have definite shapes, units of measurement, and classification words.
  • Mass nouns do not have a plural form.
  • Mass nouns can be preceded by the word ''much,'' but not the words ''a,'' ''an,'' or ''one.''
  • Mass nouns can be languages, liquids, gases, aggregate substances, food, metals, materials, and gerunds.

Let's look at some count noun examples:

  • There are four houses in this neighborhood.
  • Many bumblebees buzzed around the front door.
  • A ruler measures twelve inches.

Let's look at some mass noun examples:

  • She doesn't speak much Italian.
  • He placed six feet of wood outside.
  • Much of her happiness was fake.

If you have to put the word ''of'' between the noun and the measurement, then it is a mass noun. For example, you wouldn't say, ''I have three meters steel.'' You would say, ''I have three meters of steel.''

Lie vs. Lay

Many native English speakers confuse the words ''lie'' and ''lay.'' Let's lay that problem to rest, shall we? ''Lie'' means to recline on a bed or some other horizontal surface. On the other hand, ''lay'' means to put something somewhere. For example, ''Mrs. Marshall went to lie down on the couch after she laid her key on the table.''

Farther vs. Further

The words ''farther'' and ''further'' differ quite a lot, and yet these two words are commonly confused. ''Farther'' is used to discuss a physical distance. On the other hand, ''further'' is used to discuss one's advancement. Let's look at two examples:

  • The ball went farther than he thought.
  • She went further in her career than her mother.

Affect vs. Effect

These two words may just be the most misused and confused words in the English language. The word ''affect'' means to influence, while an ''effect'' is the result of an influence. Look at these two examples:

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