15 Words That People Say Aren’t Real—but Are

Updated: Sep. 27, 2023

Good news: These are all words! Bad news: Language snobs will scoff if you use them—so you’ll have to politely correct them.

The English language is complicated, to say the least, and sometimes the rules just don’t make any sense. Especially with texting being such a staple in today’s communication, abbreviations, contractions, and other words that just don’t sound as if they possibly could be considered legitimate have become English language staples and have even been added to our dictionary. English is wacky so we’ve compiled a list of words that people don’t believe are actually real, but have been declared authentic by Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Before you go any further, see the process of how words even get added to the dictionary.



First things first: Why would anyone still say firstly instead of first? Ordinal numbers such as first, second, and third serve as both adjectives and adverbs, making the adverbs firstly, secondly, and thirdly redundant. Most grammarians agree with Garner’s Modern American Usage: “Firstly is considered inferior to first.” But it is a word that people use, even if the best example is given in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary—”Firstly, gather all the ingredients together”—sounds a bit awkward.



Merriam-Webster says “the most frequently repeated remark about irregardless is that ‘there is no such word.’ There is such a word, however.” It has been used (mistakenly) in place of regardless since the early 1900s and has now been admitted into dictionaries. So even though it is a word, irregardless is still far from being widely accepted. And judging by the scorn it receives online, it won’t be widely accepted anytime soon. Merriam-Webster’s advice: “Use regardless instead.”



Prolly is taking over for probably in text messages, but its origin goes back much earlier: the 1940s. Considered a “relaxed pronunciation contraction” (like gonna and outta), prolly even shows up in the Oxford English Dictionary. But you should definitely only use prolly informally, as in: “U prolly don’t like that I said prolly when u asked me to marry u.” Don’t miss these grammar rules that are prolly safe to ignore.



How long does it take for a word to be used incorrectly before linguists give up and alter its meaning? It’s happening to literally, which literally means “in a literal way or sense.” So many speakers are using it in place of virtually that the Oxford English Dictionary has redefined literally to say it can be “used for emphasis rather than being actually true, such as, ‘We were literally killing ourselves laughing.'” Meanwhile, English is left with no word reserved to mean “in a literal sense.” Result: Language purists refuse to use literally figuratively. Check out these other words and phrases you’re probably using all wrong.



Dating back to the 13th century, anyways was gradually shortened to anyway. Today, it’s only used colloquially, as in: “I’ve been blabbing about myself for hours. Anyways, why are you leaving?” The word is considered superfluous: Most dictionaries list it as an informal synonym for anyway. The Oxford English Dictionary goes a step further. It identifies anyways as being of North American origin and gives this snobbish example: “You wouldn’t understand all them long words anyways.” Here are some funny words you probably don’t know (but should!)



Like irregardless and anyways, orientate can be used but shouldn’t. The word originated in British English in the 1840s as a variant of orient (both mean “to determine bearings”). Yanks stuck with orient, which is still the preferred usage—orientate is considered nonstandard in most American dictionaries. Even so, many people use it interchangeably with orient (and disorientated for disoriented). A Collins Dictionary entry reads, “We’ve taken so many turns I’m completely disorientated.”



The past tense of sneak is sneaked, so why have people stuck with snuck since the 1800s? It’s a mystery; no English verb that ends in the -eek sound has a past tense ending in -uck. But dictionaries have adopted the made-up word. Random House Dictionary explains, “Snuck has occasionally been considered nonstandard, but it is so widely used by professional writers and educated speakers that it can no longer be so regarded.” In response, grammarian James J. Kilpatrick lamented that Random House‘s “tolerant view has not snuck up on me; it has sneaked up on me. I will have none of it.” 



Word snobs may get mad if you say madded, but it is, in fact, a verb. Merriam-Webster gives this example: “Her endless excuses for not doing the work madded her overburdened coworkers.” Less cringe-worthy, and also recognized by dictionaries, is the adjective maddish. For example, when Uncle John gets sent to Acapulco in the dead of winter for a “business trip,” we’re happy for him but also maddish.



Impactful was invented by advertising agencies in the 1960s to describe their campaigns as “having a big impact.” (These are the same “madmen” who coined lite and signage.) All three words are detested by grammarians; impactful even made it onto Harvard Business Review blogger Bryan A. Garner’s list of “65 Forbidden Buzzwords.” But it’s now in the dictionary, so it’s a word.



We’re gonna shock you with this one. Yes, gonna is a word—and it has been since 1806 (the same year the word litterateur was created, which strangely, is a real word as well). So, next time you think you’re “short-texting” when you type “gonna” instead of “going to,” grammatically speaking, you’re not incorrect. Here are some more examples of short-texting that you really should know by now.



Another word for massive or huge is ginormous, which is prolly ginormous surprise to most of us. This adjective has been around since 1942. Merriam-Webster uses it in the sentence, “had a ginormous house with a swimming pool and a pool table.”



Similar to ginormous, according to Merriam-Websterhumongous is also a real, dictionary-approved word. Which, again, is another word pertaining to anything extremely large.



Yes, Merriam-Webster shocks us once again with a whole nother commonly-misperceived-as-wrong word. Also spelled as ‘nother and used as another word for “other,” this word has surprisingly been used since the 14th century.



Believe it or not, conversate is an actual word – and it’s been around for over 200 years. (Same with conversating and conversated. We know, this one will take some time to get used to.) There’s even an entire Merriam-Webster page devoted to the verb. As in, “We conversated about the weekend plans” or “We conversated about how conversate is actually a word.” Next, check out the best online programs that are best to check you grammar.



If a tough day can get tougher, and weird house guests can get weirder, why can’t a fun drink get funner after they’re gone? Actually, it can. Merriam-Webster states that funner and funnest are “sometimes” permissible. Although fun has long been accepted as a noun, it is considered informal when used as an adjective, and therefore, some people claim, it shouldn’t be inflected like other adjectives, but those people are no fun.