Docuchatter

A blog for writers with tips on editing, proofreading and related tools.

Commonly misused words

Nothing jumps off a page like a misused word and the same is true in spoken language. That one little wayward word tells me a great deal about the person who uttered it.

This is what I think when you speak in error: have you never noticed you're using the word in a way that is different than others? If not, you're likely to be considered careless and unconcerned about details. If you have noticed but haven't bothered to look it up and check who is right, I worry about your diligence and commitment to quality.

In a business context, those impressions are very harmful. Sure, you can write me off as a judgy judger, but you'd be surprised by how many of us there are! Somewhat perversely, most people who struggle to produce perfect grammar can still recognise the errors of others.

In an attempt to assist those who'd like to improve their word wielding I have started a list of commonly misused words, with an accompanying explanation of how it will get you in trouble.

Etc.

Oh, is that even a word that people say, really? Apparently it is. I have heard this word uttered thousands of times in the last few years. Whether it should be used in direct speech is another matter, but if you must say it, realise that etc. is an abbreviation of et cetera (which is why it must end with a full stop in written form).

Note this is not pronounced egcedra, edcetra or exetra or any other variation with x's or d's. Please say it with me now: Et cet-era.

Comprise

This one is very easy to correct. Simply do not collocate comprise with of. Ever.

The company comprises three divisions. Lovely.

The company is composed of three divisions. OK.

The apartment is comprised of four bedrooms. Argh, kill me now.

Myself

I have no idea where this came from, but in the last few years it has become more prevalent in spoken English to say myself when one really means I, or even me. It seems that people have the impression that it makes them sound more formal e.g. "Please direct any questions to Dan or myself."

Myself is a reflexive pronoun. This means you may only use it when you are both the subject and object of a sentence. Best example: I looked at myself in the mirror. I saw me. If Dan saw me, I would say Dan saw me, not Dan saw myself. A reflexive pronoun is the object of a sentence, never the subject.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying "Please direct any questions to Dan and me". So next time you're trying to speak formally do yourself the huge favour of choosing to say I and me, never myself.

It feels good to set a few words straight! Are there any commonly misused words in your workplace you'd like to share?