Commonly misused words in the English Language

 In Learn English

There are some words in the English language that are regularly misused.  Native English speakers are probably guiltier of deploying misused words than ESL students.  As a student of the English language, you’re, undoubtedly, more cautious with word usage, opting to use words that you truly know the meanings of.

Impress your American friends by adding these 3 challenging pairs of commonly misused words to your vocabulary.  How fun would it be to correct their English next time!

 misused words: 3 pairs that are often confused with the other

Ironic vs Coincidental

misused words

The word ironic means, that the outcome of an event is the OPPOSITE of what was expected—usually to wry or humorous effect.  It also means that what’s said about someone or something is the exact opposite of the literal meaning of the words.

It’s ironic how determined President Trump is to see Hilary Clinton ‘brought to justice’.

I can’t help but think of “life insurance” as an ironic concept.


misused words

this is irony


The word coincidental means, something done or happening by chance (not deliberately arranged), or something that exists or happens at the same time.

I ran into my ex coincidentally on my wedding day!

We are coincidentally engaged to people named Chris.

People will incorrectly say ironic to mean weird, funny, or oddly interesting, and for some reason will often misuse the word ironic when they should be using the word coincidental.

   Imply vs Infer

The word imply means, to suggest the existence, accuracy, or authenticity of something (something that is NOT stated).  It can also mean, to suggest something as an obvious or logical consequence.

REMEMBER:  writers and speakers imply

He implied I was lazy.

A bad employee review implies I won’t be getting a raise.

The word infer means, to conclude, deduce, or assume from evidence or your own ‘gut reasoning’ as in, “an educated guess”.

REMEMBER:  listeners infer

You shouldn’t infer that your boss intends to write you a bad employee review.

I think these 2 words are confused when speakers try to use the 2nd or 3rd person in a sentence.  They are mentally stepping into the listener’s shoes, and end up using the listener’s point of view.

Comprise vs Compose

The word comprise means, to be made up of, or to contain.

My favorite scent comprises a mixture of 8 essential oils.

The word compose means, to create or write—think musical composer—or to make by combining things, parts, or elements.

The scent is composed mainly, of white pepper and iris root.

The difference between these 2 words is more nuanced than the previous word pairs.  They seem to be saying the exact same thing, but they’re not.  Comprise is used when you’re talking about a whole (all the parts that make up a whole).  Compose is used when you’re talking about the parts of a whole.

ALSO:  Comprise is usually used at the beginning of a sentence, and compose is typically used at the end of a sentence.

These 3-word pairs can really be head-scratchers that leave you questioning whether it’s better just to avoid using them all together!  However, when ESL students tackle especially challenging English vocabulary words and concepts it helps to grow their understanding of English in ways that can provide new insights and patterns of thought.  And…20 years of research by Johnson O’Connor proves that “a person’s vocabulary level is the best single predictor of occupational success.”  Mike drop.


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