They say English is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
While proper English does contain many subtleties and seemingly inexplicable rules, that shouldn’t give us a license to live in ignorance.
Is it becoming more acceptable to speak and write however we like? Have we desensitized ourselves to language misuse?
Even the most pedantic of people can fall prey to the following sins.
In which ways are you guilty of butchering the English language?
Confusing Commonly Used Words
Many words sound similar to one another, yet hold very different meanings. People spend years using the wrong words for their intended meaning, developing habits that are difficult to break.
- Accept/Except: When you accept a marriage proposal, everyone will be pleased except your future mother-in-law.
- Effect/Affect: Smoking causes nasty effects. Inevitably, your breath will affect your love life.
- Than/Then: When you discover your dog speaks better than you do, then you must spend more time studying.
Because confusion between these words is so common, people will generally be able to decipher what you’re trying to say. However, it’s always best to distinguish between similar words and learn to use them properly.
Inappropriate Use of Expressions
Expressions are used more frequently in speech than in writing, which might account for why they are so often misused.
Phrases passed along in the oral tradition are easily distorted:
- “For all intensive purposes,” should be, “For all intents and purposes.”
- “I could care less,” should be, “I couldn’t care less.”
- “Nip it in the butt,” should be, “Nip it in the bud.”
If you are unsure of the correct wording used in common expressions, or if you don’t know what they mean, find out (or leave them out).
There’s nothing worse than someone who applies every grammatical rule in the book to every situation.
We do speak less formally than we write, so it’s okay to be somewhat flexible with oral grammar. Splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions is fine in most speaking situations.
Informal writing can experiment with certain grammatical rules. For example, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally starting a sentence with ‘And,’ ‘But,’ or ‘Or,’ if your purpose is to emphasize a point. Sometimes writers can even get away with using sentence fragments.
However, in a formal piece of writing, such as an essay, business letter or report, always use proper grammar.
Misuse of Thesaurus
Using a thesaurus to expand one’s vocabulary may sound like a great idea.
However, this can easily lead to situations where you think two words are synonymous, when in reality they would be inappropriate to use in the same context.
For example, check out reward in the thesaurus, and you might find retribution under the list of synonyms. While in some contexts the two words might hold similar meanings, in general they are not interchangeable.
Words can carry all sorts of different connotations. Simply picking one out of a thesaurus list is essentially drawing a word out of a hat.
How often have you heard the following?
- “Supposably” for “Supposedly”
- “Samwich” for “Sandwich”
- “Aksed” for “Asked”
- “Expecially” for “Especially”
- “Mischievious” for “Mischievous”
These mispronunciations are sometimes the result of learning to say the words improperly as children. The habit carries on so the person rarely even recognizes their mistake.
The same can’t be said of others who are listening.
Unforgivable Spelling Errors
No one knows how to spell everything, but words we use commonly should be given special attention.
I’ve seen variations such as ‘Wensday,’ ‘beleive,’ ‘grammer,’ ‘defenitely’and ‘greatful’ more times than I can count. Though a person could be forgiven for misspelling words we rarely use, surely we can all benefit from learning how to spell everyday ones.
There are plenty of rhymes and mnemonic devices to help you remember the trickier rules. Think, “I before E, except after C,” or “Drop the E and add ING.”
Whatever works for you, use it.
Why Is It So Important?
While your friends or your family might not care in the least about how you speak or write, consider the impact of your language skills on your chosen career.
Excellent language skills are necessary for:
- Telephone and email communications
- Writing of any kind
- Public speaking
If you aren’t up to par in these areas, it’s likely you’ll be passed over for someone who is.
So, how are you butchering the English language, and what are you going to do about it?