20 More Word Usage Mistakes Even Smart People Make

ISTOCK / REBECCA O’CONNELL

We’ve covered 20 pitfalls of English before, but there are plenty more to look out for. Here are another 20 word usage mistakes that can trip you up.

1. INSURE/ENSURE

These words are easy to confuse not only because they sound alike, but because they both have to do with guarantees. To ensure is to make sure something does or doesn’t happen. To insure is to use a more specific type of guarantee: an insurance policy.

2. DISPERSE/DISBURSE

Disperse is more common and has a wider range of meaning than disburse. To disperse is to scatter, separate, or sprinkle around. To disburse is only to give out money.

3. FLAK/FLACK

Not many words in English end with ak, but flak does because it’s a shortening of a German word: fliegerabwehrkanone (anti-aircraft gun). Flak is artillery fire, and by metaphorical extension, criticism. The less common flack is for a publicist or someone who tries to drum up attention for a person or product.

4. ALL RIGHT/ALRIGHT

Though alright spelled as one word is beginning to be accepted by a few style guides, it is still considered an error by most. Write it as two words.

5. BATED/BAITED

The bated in the expression bated breath is related to abated. The breath is reduced, or almost held, in anticipation. It is not baited like a fish hook.

6. ACCEPT/EXCEPT

These words have similar pronunciations, but very different meanings. To accept is to receive and to except is to exclude. A good way to remember the difference is that to accept something is to acquire it and to except is to cross it out with a big X.

7. ILLUSION/ALLUSION

Illusion is the more common word and usually the one you want. An illusion is a false impression, something that seems real, but isn’t. Allusion is mostly used in literary contexts. It is a hint at something else, or a pointer to other work, such as a character name that refers back to a Shakespeare play.

8. FLOUNDER/FOUNDER

To flounder is to flop around clumsily, like a fish on land. It can be used metaphorically for inconsistent or unproductive behavior. That’s why it’s easy to confuse with founder, which means to sink or fail. If a business is floundering, there’s still a chance to turn things around, but if it’s foundering, it’s best to cut your losses.

9. HEAR, HEAR/HERE, HERE

When you want to give enthusiastic approval, the correct expression is “Hear, hear!” It came from the sense of hear him out! or hear this! and not from a sense having to do with here, the present location. Here, here! is an answer to “Where should I put this cupcake?”