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16 Words You Could be Using Incorrectly

by South University, Online Programs
July 18, 2014

Nothing can diminish your credibility faster than using the wrong word. Unfortunately, improper usage is so commonplace in today's world that it's not easy to determine which phrases and words are correct based upon the situation. Learning some of the more frequently confused words is a great way to check your current usage and avoid future mistakes.

Wrong or RightAdverse / Averse

Adverse means harmful, while averse means to oppose something or someone. These two are more than likely confused due to the word adversary, which means an opponent.

Correct uses: The stranger had adverse motives. / She is averse to the issue.
Sample sentence: She faced adverse conditions in her quest but felt averse to the alternative.

Allusion / Illusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to someone or something and an illusion is a deception.

Correct uses: He alluded to the error. / The magician performed an act of illusion.
Sample sentence: He made a wry allusion to the article's assertion that everything happening is pure illusion.

Complement / Compliment

Complement means adding to something. A compliment is a flattering remark or something given free of charge. Both words are positive, but complementary is primarily used when referencing design and aesthetics. Complimenting that design's beauty is something else.

Correct uses: Your blue shirt complements your eyes. / The critic gave a complimentary review.
Sample sentence: The art teacher complimented the child's broad use of complementary colors.

Complacent / Complaisant

Both words are used to negatively describe someone, but complacent means someone who is not concerned or apathetic. Complaisant is used to describe a follower who goes along with the crowd.

Correct uses: Congress's complacency angered many. / The child appeared complaisant with the bully's request.
Sample sentence: Noting the company's complacency about workers' wages, employees organized a strike that demonstrated their collective refusal of further complaisance.

Defuse / Diffuse

Defuse means to lessen a situation's harmfulness or danger, and it's also (not surprisingly) used to describe removing a bomb's actual fuse. Diffuse, on the other hand, means to scatter and can be used in adjective form to describe something that's widely spread.

Correct uses: We had to defuse the situation. / Those prescribed the medicine report diffuse complications.
Sample sentence: When a fire broke out at school, teachers struggled to defuse the chaos as the smoke diffused throughout the hallway.

Disburse / Disperse

Disburse means to distribute money, while disperse means to scatter (much like "diffuse" above). Since scattering money is typically frowned upon, it's important to ensure these words are not used interchangeably.

Examples of correct use: The committee met to discuss how to disburse funds. / Afterward, the crowd dispersed.
Sample sentence: When the manager's lengthy meeting on how to disburse refunds ended, the sales associates quickly dispersed.

Flounder / Founder

Although similar, flounder means to struggle, and founder means to sink or fail.

Correct uses: She has floundered this semester while balancing school and work responsibilities. / Despite their best efforts, the relationship foundered.
Sample sentence: The man floundered amidst the ocean's waves, and rescuers worked quickly to reach him before he foundered.

Alternative/ Alternate

Alternative is used to describe additional options. Alternate means every other one or taking turns.

Correct uses: One must consider the alternative. / To prevent burn-out, alternate between tasks.
Sample sentence: She didn't want to alternate driving responsibilities with her husband, but the alternative of hearing him complain made her reconsider.

Correctly differentiating between these commonly misused words supports the professionalism and overall integrity of your speech and written work.

by South University, Online Programs
July 18, 2014
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Tricky Expressions: Is it One Word or Two?

by South University
June 11, 2012

Whether words are misused or are not words at all, we've made an effort to highlight them. Today, we’ll dive into some common expressions and discover if one word or two should be used.

  • After All/Afterall – In this case, only “after all” is correct. It makes sense that “afterall” would pop up from time to time though. We’re all busy and looking for ways to simplify our lives, shortening words and combining them. In this case, however, we should stick with “after all.”
  • All Right/Alright – This pairing is a bit more complicated than the previous one. Traditionally, “all right” is the correct usage and “alright” is incorrect, but as we mentioned in a previous blog post , the English language is constantly evolving, and “alright” is slowly gaining acceptance for everyday use.
  • Every Day/Everyday – Speaking of “everyday,” we bring you our third pairing. In this case, both are words but have different meanings. Many people mistakenly write “everyday” when they really mean “every day.” This sentence gives us the correct usage for both: Jane likes to eat oatmeal for breakfast every day; it has become an important part of her everyday routine.
  • Any One/Anyone – Here, we have another example where both are correct, illustrated as follows: Any one of the three of us could be chosen to lead the team, but I don’t know why anyone would select me.

There are many other examples like those listed above, but we’ll explore them in a future blog post.

by South University
June 11, 2012
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The English Language in the 21st Century

by South University
June 4, 2012

If there's one thing you can count on where the English language is concerned, it's that it will change. For proof of this, all we need to do is look back at the prose of William Shakespeare. People certainly don’t say things like “The apparel oft proclaims the man,” these days, and if they did, they’d probably be the recipient of more than a few strange looks.

In our highly technological society, language continues to evolve even today. It’s graduation season, and the way we refer to the act of graduating seems to be in a state of flux. As Grammar Girl notes in her blog, recent history has given us three ways to say it. In the early 1900s, it was common for one to say “he was graduated from college.” By the middle of the last century, the saying morphed into “he graduated from college.” In the past few years, the statement has become more simplified still, and many people often say “he graduated college.” For more on this subject, check out Grammar Girl’s insightful blog post.

Not only are we omitting words where we feel that they are no longer needed, but we’re also making up new words that we feel do a better job of capturing what we want to say. A popular example these days is the “word” melty. If you search in any dictionary, you won’t find melty anywhere, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of popular fast food chains from using it in their ad campaigns with abandon. The thought must have been that “melty cheese” sounds so much better than “melted cheese.” It may not be a real word today, but it likely won’t take long for it to make its way into dictionaries with its frequent appearance in our everyday lives.

The evolution of language could be seen as positive or negative, but it seems to be a necessity as we progress as a society. We’re always looking for faster, better ways of living our lives, so why should language be left out of the mix?


by South University
June 4, 2012
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Seven "Words" That Aren't

by South University
November 10, 2011

Similarly to our misused words blog posts, we give you a list of frequently-used “words” that are not actually words at all. You hear them all the time, and if you know better, you may feel a familiar pang of annoyance whenever they are uttered:

  • Irregardless – If someone uses this “word,” what they really mean is “regardless.”
  • Pacifically – The word you’re actually looking for here is “specifically,” and, thankfully, use of the correct word is not limited to those of you on the west coast!
  • Supposably – This one comes up quite frequently, but what you really want to say is “supposedly.”
  • Self-depreciating – To “depreciate” is to decrease in value, so it’s no surprise that this pops up from time to time. The correct terminology, however, is “self-deprecating.”
  • Disorientated – No need to add the extra letters here, folks. What you’re really looking for is “disoriented.”
  • Flustrated – This is probably a combination of “frustrated” and “flustered,” but it’s also incorrect. Use one of the correct words to express your point instead.
  • Unthaw – To thaw is to melt, so if you’re unthawing something, you’re actually freezing it.

Do you have other “words” that drive you crazy each time you hear them? Be sure to let us know!

by South University
November 10, 2011
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Still More Commonly Misused Words

by South University
October 31, 2011

We're back with the fourth installment of commonly misused words, just when you thought we'd already exhausted every possibility. Check out the latest list:

  • Anyway or Anyways. In this case, you don’t need to remember which word to use in a particular situation because, as a matter of fact, anyways is a nonstandard form of anyway and is never technically correct. Since we’re sure you wouldn’t want to use an incorrect word anyway, we’ll move on to the next pair.
  • Accept or Except. Oh, that crazy English language. Why are these words so similar, yet so different? Accept is a verb, as in “I cannot accept the fact that he is leaving on Friday.” By accepting, or refusing to accept, you’re doing something. Meanwhile, except is a preposition used to clarify what or who is not included, as in “Everyone except Jodie met after work to plan the party” or “The box of crayons had all of the colors I needed, except orange.”
  • Affect or Effect. Just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, we bring you this pair, which are often confused in everyday situations. Luckily, there’s a relatively simple way to remember which is which. Affect is a verb, as in “The inclement weather will undoubtedly affect my commute to work” or “I was not affected by the cold weather because I had dressed appropriately.” Effect, however, is a noun, as in “Luckily, I did not experience any side effects after taking the medication for my head cold” or “The construction noises outside will definitely have an effect on my ability to sleep tonight.”

As always, thanks for reading!

by South University
October 31, 2011
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