Avoid Misusing These Commonly Mistaken Words

by Christine Chadwick

English is largely considered to be one of the world's most difficult tongues. But whether you're a native speaker or brand new to the language, some words are more difficult than others. Let's take a look at a few of the most commonly misused words.


Many people assume "ironic" means something that is funny in a sarcastic kind of way. In fact, it really means a turnout different than the one you would otherwise have expected; in other words, opposite of its literal meaning. Don't feel bad about getting it wrong all of these years, though. You're in good company: Alanis Morissette used "ironic" wrong, too - and was still nominated for a Grammy.


It's easy to mix up "felicitous" with "fortuitous." While the former references something well-suited for the circumstance, the latter simply refers to a fortunate act of chance.


Most people think the word "compel" involves an action brought on by strong desire. In reality, neither desire nor motivation is involved. Being compelled to do something has nothing to do with whether you want to something or not, but instead means you are doing it under force or obligation. While the end result may be the same, the motivation is very different.


Want to let people know that about your sophisticated, academic, high brow discussion? If so, the word to use is "converse," not "conversate." Now if it was a super-fancy, ultra-sophisticated, uber-academic, incredibly high brow discourse, it would be a different story, right? Nope. The word is still "converse." So what does "conversate" mean? Nothing.


Many people mistakenly think the words "amused" and "bemused" are interchangeable. In fact, "amused" means "entertained," while "bemused" means "confused." We can see how the whole thing would be bemusing, though.


If you're not interested in something, you're disinterested, right? Not quite. A common misconception is that the word "disinterested" means that something is uninteresting or flat-out boring. Rather, it simply means that you have no opinion one way or another.


If you're a math genius or Latin buff, you can probably skip over this one. Everyone else, listen up. While the word "decimate" may bring to mind thoughts of aliens taking over the planet and raining down mass destruction over everyone and everything, its actual definition is much milder: "to destroy 10 percent," deriving from an ancient Roman military practice in which 10 percent of a subversive group would be executed as punishment.

However, this is also an example of the fluidity of language. Over time, "decimation" has evolved to mean total destruction, as opposed to relatively minor fractional destruction.

While there are many other commonly misused words - along with opportunities to hone your vocab skills - understanding the proper meaning of these eight words will get you off to a great start. And remember: while the English language can be tricky, mastering it is a worthwhile investment in your future.

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