Common Errors – Page 4

Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Page 4 of 4

#1) Aggravate vs. Irritate

These words are not synonymous. Aggravate means “to make worse” while Irritate means “to annoy.” Shocking, but one cannot aggravate a person. (This would, I suppose, mean, “I am making you a worse person,” which is surely not what is meant). Sitting out in the cold can aggravate a sick person’s disease, which would probably irritate the person.

#2) Irregardless and Supposably

 These are not words. The ones you are looking for are “regardless” and “supposedly.”

#3) Imply vs. Infer

These two words cannot be interchanged at will, although many treat them as synonyms. To imply something is to suggest it indirectly. If I kept telling you how much I love Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit every time I see you, I might be implying that we should watch it together someday. To infermeans to come to a conclusion based on what evidence is available. If I kept telling you how much I love Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit every time I see you, you might infer that I have poor taste in movies. A cheap mnemonic device: writers and speakers imply (I’m supplying just enough information for you), listeners and readers infer (they look in ‘fer the real meaning)

#4) Disinterested vs. Uninterested

The common error here is the misconception that disinterestedmeans “not concerned with” or “not interested in.” In fact, it means “unbiased” or “neutral.” Uninterested means “exhibiting no interest” or “unconcerned.” In a football game, a coach would hope to get a disinterested referee, but not an uninterested one; the first one is fair, the second one is not watching the game.

#5) Nauseous vs. Nauseated

This one is a point of contention among grammarians. Some fiercely stick to this rule, while others (for instance, Mirriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher) accept the common usage that treats these two words as synonyms, both meaning “queasy” or “ill.” But my job is to teach the rules, so… When feeling sick, most people say “I feel nauseous,” but they might be interested in learning that they are actually saying “I feel like I am going to make you sick by looking at me.” Nauseous means, “causing nausea” or more simply, “sickening.” Somebody who feels sick feels “nauseated.” If you maintain this distinction, you will never be wrong.

#6) Enormity vs. Enormousness (Six Problems??? Bonus Level!)

 Barack Obama brought this mistake back into the spotlight in 2008 when he mentioned, during his acceptance speech, the enormity of running the United States. Enormity, however, means “great evil or wickedness.” Unless he was declaring war on everybody, then he probably meant enormousness, which means “greatness in size.” A few style guides and dictionaries are beginning to accept enormity as a synonym for “hugeness,” but the majority of scholars and reputable sources still warn against making an error of such … enormity


Try to answer these without referring to the information above. Circle the correct answer

1) The girl was (nauseous / nauseated) when she accidentally drank the spoiled milk.

2) While Marie loves baseball, her brother doesn’t and is always (uninterested / disinterested) when the game is on.

3) Craig had had a series of bad first dates – all the girls he met seemed nice at first, but soon (aggravated / irritated) him with their small talk.

4) She was unwilling to say so directly, but Marjorie (implied / inferred) to her husband that he should take a shower. 

5) Vladimir is (supposably / supposedly) the better boxer, but Marco defeated him easily.

6) The car wreck and its victims was a (nauseous / nauseated) sight.

 7) Using all of the clues at the crime scene, Inspector Dumond (implied / inferred) that the murderer was, of course, the butler.

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