How to Sound Smarter
You almost never mean: Hopefully You almost always mean: I hope Why: Hopefully means “in a hopeful manner.” “I hope
You almost never mean: Hopefully
You almost always mean: I hope
Why: Hopefully means “in a hopeful manner.” “I hope the boss lets us out early” and “Hopefully, the boss lets us out early” aren’t the same thing.
You almost never mean: More importantly
You almost always mean: More important
Why: More or most important is probably what you want. Only if you’re a pompous blowhard do you say things importantly.
You never mean: Between you and I
You always mean: Between you and me
Why: Between you and I sounds fancy, and therefore right, but don’t be so quick to belittle Cookie Monster (“Me want cookies!”). In this case, me is correct because it’s the object of the preposition between.
You almost never mean: Assessable
You almost always mean: Accessible
Why: A library is wheelchair-accessible. Your house is assessable by the county that taxes it.
You almost never mean: I feel badly
You almost always mean: I feel bad
Why: Is your sense of touch physically impaired (almost never) or are you feeling some guilt after screwing up (almost always)?
You never mean: Equally as well (important, etc.)
You always mean: Equally well
Why: The as isn’t necessary. “I speak Latin and pig Latin equally well.”
You never mean: The reason is because
You always mean: The reason is that
Why: The reason is that the word reason implies because. Likewise, why say “the reason why” when you can say “the reason”?
You almost never mean: I need to lay down
You almost always mean: I need to lie down
Why: This is another case where people think (wrongly) that a particular word sounds more “educated.” Lay and lie are not interchangeable. Lie doesn’t require an object: “I need to lie down.” But lay does: “I need to lay my head down.” Confusion kicks in because of the past tense of both verbs—lie becomes lay; lay becomes laid—but the usage stays the same.
You never mean: Chaise lounge
You always mean: Chaise longue
Why: People have been getting this wrong for at least a century. The proper phrase is French and translates as “long chair.”
You never mean: ATM machine, PIN number
You always mean: ATM, PIN
Why: Redundancy (“automated teller machine machine,” “personal identification number number”).
You almost never mean: Historical
You almost always mean: Historic
Why: In short, historic means “significant” (“a historic election”). But if you intend “occurring in or relating to history,” go with historical (think “historical data” or “a historical link between the two world wars”). By the way, it’s never “an historic/historical event.” The vowel sound “a” should precede a consonant sound (like the hard “h” in historic).
You never mean: The person that
You always mean: The person who
Why: A human is a “who.” Anything else (yes, including animals) is a “that.”
You never mean: Could of
You always mean: Could have
Why: This error pops up because of the similar pronunciations. But remember, every sentence needs a verb: “I could have written a better cover letter.”
You never mean: Most everyone
You always mean: Everyone
Why: Make up your mind: If you truly mean “every person,” use just everyone. If not, say most people.
You never mean: I feel nauseous
You always mean: I feel nauseated
Why: In strict terms, nauseous means “to cause nausea” (as in “a hateful, nauseous person”); nauseated means “afflicted with nausea” (as in “I’m nauseated”).
You never mean: Very unique
You always mean: Unique
Why: Unique things and people are one of a kind, absolute.
You never mean: For all intensive purposes
You always mean: For all intents and purposes
Why: Even if you do get it right, you don’t need this expression. It’s just filler.
You almost never mean: I literally laughed my head off
You almost always mean: I laughed my head off
Why: Literally means “actually” and is best reserved for real events.
You never mean: Merge together
You always mean: Merge
Why: The phrase is redundant (as are combinations like absolute necessity, free gift, and a pair of twins—unless you mean two sets of twins, that is).
You almost never mean: Orientate
You almost always mean: Orient
Why: Orientate is a word, but it means “to face east.” “The tour was designed to orient new students.”
You almost never mean: Impact
You almost always mean: Affect
Why: Impact shouldn’t be forced into service as a verb. No: “The decision impacts everyone.” Yes: “The decision affects everyone.”
You never mean: Off of
You always mean: Off
Why: Some words are perfectly fine on their own. “May I bounce an idea off you?”
You almost never mean: In order to
You almost always mean: To
Why: See above.
You never mean: Comprised of
You always mean: Comprises
Why: Comprises equals includes. You’d never say, “My grocery list includes of milk, eggs, and kiwis.” Same goes for comprises. (Use of with compose: “The sculpture is composed of wire hangers.”)
You never mean: Everyone has their grammar hang-ups
You always mean: Everyone has his or her grammar hang-ups
Why: Everyone, everybody, and close cousin each are singular, so words that refer to them should also be singular. Or, since we all have our grammar hang-ups, you could just rephrase the sentence.