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4 Vote

There are several English words that are commonly used incorrectly by native speakers.

presently

Actual meaning: soon

Intended meaning: now

penultimate

Actual meaning: next to last

Intended meaning: superlative for "superultimate" or beyond ultimate

Are there any words commonly misused like this in Spanish?

  • Great thread Lorenzo! I wish it was for English words as well. You would probably get tons of those. - Nicole-B Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • How often do you hear penultimate used in everyday speech? - cheeseisyumm Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • Surprisingly often. It usually comes up in discussions of the ultimate something, like a baseball player during the World Series, when someone tries to outdo another persons ultimate. - lorenzo9 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • I don't think these are the most commonly misused words in English... I'd think of things like the word 'like', 'then'/ 'than', 'affect' / 'effect' , 'random', etc. - morphine Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • I guess it depends on wether you treat confusing to similar sounding words with different meanings the same way as intentionally using a word to mean something other than it's definition. - lorenzo9 Oct 28, 2009 flag

21 Answers

3 Vote

Good and Well.

How are you? - I am good.

  • Good one...or is it "well one?" Lol. - --Mariana-- Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • The boy done good = (did well) - as fooball mangers often say in England. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
3 Vote

An original meaning of presently was "at the present time; currently."

I use presently to mean now, currently, at the present time.

P.s. I was an English major for four years and now I'm an editor for a legal newspaper, so I'm pretty confident in my use of the word.

  • It means / or is used as "soon" in English English Marianne - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • Yes, Ian, but isn't it also true that if it is used as that, the sentence will also employ future tense verbs? "I will do that presently", vs "I am doing that presently". - Goyo Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • "When will you do it?" "Presently" = soon not now. "I am doing that presently" is illogical. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • It is not ilogical at all. That useage is quite common in the English language. - Goyo Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • Not in English English. It isn't logical. "I am doing it presently" is present continuous and means "now" "I will do it presently" means in a short while. It us used as you say but "gets up my nose" everytime I hear it. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
3 Vote

These are ones that I mess up a lot, especially when growing up:

there vs their vs they're

accept vs except

While they sound similar, except is a preposition that means "apart from", while accept is a verb that means "agree with", "take in", or "receive". Except is also rarely used as a verb, meaning to leave out.

* Standard: We accept all major credit cards, except Diners Club.
* Standard: Men are fools... present company excepted! (Which means, "present company excluded")
* Non-standard: I had trouble making friends with them; I never felt excepted.
* Non-standard: We all went swimming, accept for Jack.

affect vs effect

The verb affect means "to influence something", and the noun effect means "the result of". Effect can also be a verb that means "to cause [something] to be", while affect as a noun has technical meanings in psychology, music, and aesthetic theory: an emotion or subjectively experienced feeling.

* Standard. This poem affected me so much that I cried.
* Standard. Temperature has an effect on reaction spontaneity.
* Standard. The dynamite effected the wall's collapse.
* Standard. He seemed completely devoid of affect.
* Non-standard. The rain effected our plans for the day.
* Non-standard. We tried appeasing the rain gods, but to no affect.

adverse vs averse

Adverse means unfavorable, contrary or hostile. Averse means having a strong feeling of opposition, antipathy, or repugnance.

* Standard: They sailed despite adverse weather conditions.
* Standard: He was averse to taking his medicine.
* Non-standard: He is not adverse to having a drink now and then.

allusion vs illusion

An allusion is an indirect or metaphorical reference to something; an illusion is a false picture of something that is there; a hallucination is the seeing of something that is not there.

diffuse vs defuse

To diffuse is to disperse randomly, whereas to defuse is to remove the fuse from a bomb, or in general to render a situation less dangerous. Diffuse can also be used as an adjective, meaning, "not concentrated".

* Standard: The situation was defused when Sandy explained that he was gay, and had no interest in Frank's wife.
* Standard: The smell of gasoline slowly diffused into the still air of the hall.
* Standard: The spotlights were turned off, leaving the stage lit by the diffuse glow of the lanterns.

set vs sit

When used as a verb, to set means "to place" or "to adjust to a value", whereas to sit means, "to be seated".

* Standard: Set the pot upon the stove.
* Standard: Set the temperature-control to 100 °C.
* Non-standard: Set down over there.
* Non-standard: Sit the pot on the stove.
* Standard: Sit on the chair.
  • This illustrates very well some problems when learning English. There are many more. You deserve a vote. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
2 Vote

presently Actual meaning: soon Intended meaning: now

This may be a bit misleading as the word "presently" can mean both "soon" and "now."

From Webster's New World Dictionary:

presently adv 1 in a little while; soon. 2 at present; now 3 [archaic] at once; instantly

penultimate Actual meaning: next to last Intended meaning: superlative for "superultimate" or beyond ultimate

"Beyond ultimate." Now there's an oxymoron for you. Is that like "being 1000% sure" about something (as though being 100% wasn't enough) or like being "better than the best."

Incidentally, I often misuse penultimate, but not for the reasons you have listed. When I am in the middle of writing something that would require the use of a word like ultimate, acme, pinnacle, etc., I often vacillate between "ultimate" and "pinnacle," and for some reason it comes out "penultimate."

  • Most dictionaries contain that defition since it is commonly used in spoken Enlgish, however many also point out that that usage is considered incorrect. The word "ain't" is treated similarly. - lorenzo9 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • If it were "substandard" then it would be listed as such as either a "colloqial" part of speech (which is how ain't is handled) as dialectical or obsolte, but it is not entered as such. - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • It has been used this way (continuously) for the last 400 yrs or so. So I am not sure how one could object to its use (as language itself depends upon usage) - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • additionally, definition 1 is the younger of the two uses, coming into usage during the 16th century; whereas, the second entry dates back to the 15th century. - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • In neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Webster dictionary is there any caveat listed regarding usage - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
1 Vote

I have previously read the "Usage Note" that you are quoting and I have also read contradictory statements elsewhere that contend that the use of "presently" to mean "now" has been in continuous use since the 15th century. Not only that, language is not some static monolith that defines our reality but rather it is the use of language that defines the language itself. It is organic in the sense that it grows, develops and changes along with peoples and cultures. That being said, in your own quote you have asserted that roughly half of the "experts" on the Usage Panel in the 1999 survey agreed with its usage. That appears at best to be a stalemate. Yet I would contend that if 1). the word is in common usage, 2). it means the same thing as the original meaning of the word, 3) it has been in continuous use for any substantial amount of time, 4) neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor Webster's notes any irregularities in this usage, and 5). about half of all "experts" surveyed agreed that it was reasonably used in this way , it is difficult to make a case against its use in this way or to contend that this usage is in some way incorrect.

  • I guess we'l ljust have to agree to disagree, just like the two groups of experts. - lorenzo9 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • I was actually thinking the same thing, that if the so-called-experts disagree on this then it is not unusual that we might as well :) - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • Izanoni - you wrote "about half of experts surveyed agreed etc. ...." What about the more than half that did not? - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • That was exactly my point (although 2 percentage points difference can hardly be considered significantly significant) when I said that there appears to be, at best, a stalemate regarding the issue - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • hehe..."significantly." should read "statistically" - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
1 Vote

One of my pet peeves with incorrect English is saying or writing very unique.

Unique is unique. Nada mas, nada menos...

Does the same error occur in Spanish?

Por ejemplo: muy unico... O, muy excepcional...

1 Vote

As far as commonly misused words/phrases in Spanish, you might be interested in this thread: errores comunes en español

1 Vote

The English word that "gets my goat" is "momentarily" .

This is used all the time on CNN for example to mean "soon" - it does not mean "soon" it means "for a short while" "for a short period of time"

There are many others that I can't think of just now.

  • I suspect we could have a similar discussion about whether "momentarily" can be used to mean "soon". I see both definitions in various dictionaries. - jrey0474 Oct 28, 2009 flag
1 Vote

Oh, I forgot the one I most dislike: loose and lose When you lose something it is lost.
You set something loose or you loosen something.

1 Vote

When it comes to English dictionaries be careful when using Mr Websters dictionary.

He was one of a group of people who wanted to create "American English" as distinct from "British English" following independence.

They failed but introduced a lot of anomolies that has resulted in the phrase "two nations separated by a common language"

A bit of background on Mr Webster

Noah Webster, the Father of American Christian education, wrote the first American dictionary and established a system of rules to govern spelling, grammar, and reading. This master linguist understood the power of words, their definitions, and the need for precise word usage in communication to maintain independence. Webster used the Bible as the foundation for his definitions.

This standard reference tool will greatly assist students of all ages in their studies.

No other dictionary compares with the Webster's 1828 dictionary. The English language has changed again and again and in many instances has become corrupt. The American Dictionary of the English Language is based upon God's written word, for Noah Webster used the Bible as the foundation for his definitions. This standard reference tool will greatly assist students of all ages in their studies. From American History to literature, from science to the Word of God, this dictionary is a necessity. For homeschoolers as well as avid Bible students it is easy, fast, and sophisticated.

Thought I should add this about the Oxford Dictionary - note it was first published many years AFTER the Webster dictionary.

How it began When the members of the Philological Society of London decided, in 1857, that existing English language dictionaries were incomplete and deficient, and called for a complete re-examination of the language from Anglo-Saxon times onward, they knew they were embarking on an ambitious project. However, even they didn't realize the full extent of the work they initiated, or how long it would take to achieve the final result.

The project proceeded slowly after the Society's first grand statement of purpose. Eventually, in 1879, the Society made an agreement with the Oxford University Press and James A. H. Murray to begin work on a New English Dictionary (as the Oxford English Dictionary was then known).

Keeping it current

An exhilarating aspect of a living language is that it continually changes. This means that no dictionary is ever really finished. After fifty years of work on the first edition, the editors must have found this fact exhausting to contemplate.

  • yes that is why I crossed checked this with the Oxford dictionary - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • Besides this, the idea of languages becoming corrupt is not novel to the the American Dictionaries. A bit of research into the Oxford English Dictionary will reveal these same types of sentiments. - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • One other note on this is that, whatever its beginnings, this is not 1828, and to assume that the Dictionary iteslf would not have evolved in nearly 200 years would be a poor evaluation. - Izanoni1 Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • I never said that am not suggesting that. Just that British English (England more specifically) is where the language originates from. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
  • About 300 new words are added to the oxford Dictionary every year - many originating from the USA. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
1 Vote

One of my pet peeves with incorrect English is saying or writing very unique.

Unique is unique. Nada mas, nada menos...

Does the same error occur in Spanish?

Por ejemplo: muy unico... O, muy excepcional...

I agree! I also have a pet peeve along those lines. I have never understood the use of the very common phrase "fun loving". I mean, honestly, who doesn't love to have fun? It's a little redundant. Isn't the definition of having fun doing something that you love to do?

I think this explanation from Urbandictionary.com (okay, not the best source, I know tongue laugh) sums up my thoughts completely:

fun-loving

The most ridiculous, pointless, and redundant adjective that has ever existed. The definition of fun, is something that is a source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure. Therefore, the fact that something fun is enjoyable or pleasurable is built-in to the very meaning of the word. Hence, it is completely redundant and illogical to say "fun-loving". How else is someone going to feel about fun? Fun-hating? The very notion is contradictory at best, and ludicrous at worst.

  • Strange "very unique" as you say but we do say "the very best" - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
0 Vote

I don't know if this would count, but growing up, I always heard the word mañana used as a word for "later". In fact, I always thought it did mean later, until I learned the real meaning. However, I think someone probably put something off, saying "I'll do it mañana." Eventually, the term started to mean "I'll do it later".

0 Vote

I've heard different people use "ahorita" for right now and also to mean a little bit later. People disagree about what it means.

0 Vote

It has been used this way (continuously) for the last 400 yrs or so. So I am not sure how one could object to its use (as language itself depends upon usage)

link

Usage Note: An original meaning of presently was "at the present time; currently." That sense is said to have disappeared from the literary language in the 17th century, but it has survived in popular usage and is widely found nowadays in literate speech and writing. Still, there is a lingering prejudice against this use. The sentence General Walters is ... presently the United States Ambassador to the United Nations was acceptable to only 48 percent of the Usage Panel in the 1999 survey.

When I was in high school, you would get points taken off for misuse of "presently", so I have that lingering prejudice. wink

  • Lorenzo - not sure about your reference to "Original meaning" Where did you get that from? But a good post - have a vote. - ian-hill Oct 28, 2009 flag
0 Vote

Quite likely, the most common error in written English is misspelling its as it's.

!Me hace loco!

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