Being a freelance writer, I often find myself messing up common phrases. When I’m unsure, I do a quick Google search to make sure that what I’m writing is actually what I’m trying to say. This inspired me to come up with a list of common phrases that people frequently get wrong. Some of them aren’t completely our fault because the incorrect way of saying them has actually become the “norm”. But we’re still wrong.
Here’s my list of common phrases that you might be saying incorrectly. Don’t be embarrassed if you notice you use the incorrect phrase; we all do it.
The phrases on the left are incorrect, the ones on the right are correct.
1: Nip it in the butt vs. Nip it in the bud
Nipping something in the bud means that you’re putting an end to it before it has a chance to grow or start. Nipping something in the butt means you’re biting its behind.
2: I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less
Saying that you could care less about a topic implies that you do care about it at least a little. What you usually mean is that you don’t care about the topic at all, hence “I couldn’t care less”.
3: One in the same vs.One and the same
When you really sit and think about it, “one in the same” doesn’t mean anything at all. The correct phrase “one and the same” means that two things are the same.
4: You’ve got another thing coming vs. You’ve got another think coming
This is one of those phrases where the incorrect usage actually does make sense and has become its own phrase. But it’s still technically wrong. In fact, most people don’t even know the correct phrase unless they look it up (I sure didn’t). The correct version really only makes sense if you use the entire sentence “if that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.”
5: Each one worse than the next vs. Each one worse than the last
Unless you can foresee the future, “each one worse than the next” doesn’t make sense. The problem with this phrase is that it isn’t logical. For example, you can’t compare two bicycles until you’ve tested them both. So logically, you would compare the current bicycle to the last bike you tested.
6: On accident vs. By accident
Sometimes I feel very sorry for people attempting to learn English. With phrases like this, it must be awful. You can do something on purpose, but not on accident. Prepositions are a killer.
7: Statue of limitations vs. Statute of limitations
Whenever I think of these two phrases, I get reminded of one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever.
8: For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposes
You may feel very strongly and intense about your purpose, but that doesn’t make the phrase correct. Another common incorrect use of the phrase is switching the words “for” and “with”. The correct phrase means that you are covering all possibilities and circumstances.
9: He did good vs. He did well
The phrases good and well get interchanged so much that some people think they are actually interchangeable words. They’re not. If you’re ever confused about which to use, here’s a tip: Use “well” as an adverb (words used to describe verbs) and “good” as an adjective (words used to describe nouns). For example:
The dog runs well
He is a good dog
10: Extract revenge vs. Exact revenge
When you extract something, you’re taking it out of something else. When you exact onto something, you’re dishing it out. Therefore, extracting revenge on someone would mean you’re taking out that person’s revenge. Exacting revenge onto them means that you’re taking your revenge out on them.
11: Old timer’s disease vs. Alzheimer’s Disease
This one is just kind of silly. It’s really a mistake that we make when we’re younger. As we get older and actually learn about what Alzheimer’s Disease is, we have the sense to say the word correctly.
12: I’m giving you leadway vs. I’m giving you leeway
Leadway actually isn’t even a word. Leeway means extra space and freedom.
13: Aks vs. Ask
You don’t aks/axe for things. You ask for them. I’m not sure when the “s” and “k” got switched but it happens all the time when people talk.
14: What’s your guyses opinion? vs. What’s your opinion, guys?
I’ll leave this explanation to the Urban Dictionary:
completely and utterly useless phrase people up north use in the place of ya’ll. it means you guys, but they just have to be stupid and (besides not using the much simpler phrase ya’ll) add -es to the phrase “you guys”. As I have said many times with great wisdomosity, ya’ll is much simplier to say.
15: Expresso vs. Espresso
I’m sure those of you who work at coffee shops have had people order an expresso before. There’s no such drink. The drink you’re trying to order is an espresso.
16: Momento vs. Memento
Momento isn’t a word. A memento is a keepsake.
17: Irregardless vs. Regardless
Regardless means without regard. Throwing on “IR” to the beginning makes the word a double negative. I think we can all agree that “without without regard” doesn’t make sense.
18: Sorta vs. Sort of
The phrase “sort of” was too long so someone decided to shorten it up and turn it into sorta. I think it’s just sorta lazy.
19: Conversating vs. Conversing
Drop the “on” and add an “ng” and you have yourself a new verb right? Wrong. Conversating is an unofficial word that a lot of people use in place of the correct term, conversing.
20: Scotch free and Scott free vs. Scot free
I’ve seen so many explanations of the origins of the phrase “Scot free” that I really don’t know where it came from. But what I do know is that Scotch free and Scott free are incorrect.
21: I made a complete 360 degree change in my life vs. I made a complete 180 degree change in my life
People say they’ve made a complete 360 degree change in their life to imply that they’ve completely changed from the way they used to be. However, going 360 degrees means that you’ve returned to the exact same place you started. Which would mean you didn’t change at all. A 180 degree change would mean that you are the complete opposite which is what most people are trying to say.
22: Curl up in the feeble position vs. Curl up in the fetal position
Feeble means weak and frail. So in a way, curling up in a feeble position isn’t too far off. However, the actual fetal position that people are referring to is the curled up position that fetuses use while in the womb.
23: Phase vs. Faze
The word “phase” is usually used when talking about periods of time or stages. For instance, “Bob’s interest in the iPhone 5 was just a phase.” However, phase is often mistakenly used in place of the word faze, which means to disrupt. Here’s a paragraph from an article that shows the common mistake.
EAT 5:53: Uganda 2-1 Angola. Five minutes of added time, can the Cranes hang on? Cranes coach Micho Sedojevic unphased, but still urges the boys to hang on. Cranes piling the pressure
24: Hone in vs. Home in
The word hone means to sharpen or improve somehow. For example, you can hone your speaking skills. To home in on something means to get closer to it. “We’re homing in on a cure for cancer”.
25: Brother in laws vs. Brothers in law
If your wife or husband has several siblings, they’re called your “brothers/sisters in law”. I’m about to get a little grammar nerdy with my explanation so get ready. The general rule of thumb for making a compound noun plural is to add a “s” to the noun that there’s more of. In our case, the words brother and law are both nouns. Since the word you’re pluralizing is brother, you add an “s” to it, not law.