24 Things You Might Be Saying Wrong

The Reader's Digest Version of all those confusing words and seemingly random rules you missed in English class.

By Melissa DeMeo and Paul Silverman from Reader's Digest | September 2010

You never mean: Could care less

You always mean: Couldn’t care less

Why: You want to say you care so little already that you couldn’t possibly care any less. When the Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen said, “God could care less whether I can shoot a jump shot,” we know he meant exactly the opposite because 1) God has other things on his mind, and 2) God is a Knicks fan.

You might say: Mano a mano

You might mean: Man-to-man

Why: You don’t speak Spanish by adding vowels to the end of English words, as a columnist describing father–teenage son relationships seemed to think when he wrote, “Don’t expect long, mano a mano talks.” Mano a mano (literally, “hand to hand”) originated with bullfighting and usually refers to a knock-down, drag-out direct confrontation.

You might say: Less

You might mean: Fewer

Why: In general, use fewer when you’re specifying a number of countable things (“200 words or fewer”); reserve less for a mass (“less than half”). So when you’re composing a tweet, do it in 140 characters or fewer, not less.

You never mean: Hone in

You always mean: Home in

Why: Like homing pigeons, we can be single-minded about finding our way to a point: “Scientists are homing in on the causes of cancer.” Hone means “to sharpen”: “The rookie spent the last three seasons honing his skills in the minor leagues.” But it’s easy to mishear m’s and n’s, which is probably what happened to the Virginia senator who said, “We’ve got to hone in on cost containment.” If you’re unsure, say “zero in” instead.

You might say: Bring

You might mean: Take

Why: The choice depends on your point of view. Use bring when you want to show motion toward you (“Bring the dog treats over here, please”). Use take to show motion in the opposite direction (“I have to take Rufus to the vet”). The rule gets confusing when the movement has nothing to do with you. In those cases, you can use either verb, depending on the context: “The assistant brought the shot to the vet” (the vet’s point of view); “the assistant took the shot to the doctor” (the assistant’s).

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  • Your Comments

    • Zaron

      If almost everyone says these things, then how did you determine that they were incorrect?

    • Zaron

      I use beg the question all the time. Correctly. You don’t have to be a philosophy professor; there’s this thing called the internet nowadays. And with it comes internet arguments.

    • Chase

      English is a living language, and despite many best attempts to categorize and fix the meanings of things. Idioms pop up, and words change meaning.

    • Bweedle

      More than 9000!!!

    • John q

      What about all of the sudden instead of all of a sudden

    • Shannon

      I am surprised at the number of times I’ve heard people say “irregardless”, and the number of people who spell the word “tomorrow” incorrectly (i.e., “tomarrow”)!
      It also drives me crazy when people say things like, “We are currently unavailable right now to take your call, but if you leave a message, either Joe or myself will get back to you…”

    • Julie Christina Riegel

      When talking about incorrect plural (brothers-in-law vs brother-in-laws) the article notes that an exception is phrases like “cul-de-sacs”, which is INCORRECT. The correct plural of cul-de-sac is CULS-DE-SAC!

    • MizRo

      The worst is “irregardless” – it’s not even a word. *harumph*
      Also, “unorganized” makes me nuts – DISorganized…