20 Commonly Misused or Misspelled Words and the Correct Way to Use Them

YOU'RE about to get YOUR learn on.

Cory Dudakby Cory Dudak

If your someone that doesn’t pay much attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling, than this sentence won’t annoy you one bit. For many of us, however, bad diction can be a real pet peeve, and one that is only accentuated by the vast amount of social media out there. english book, grammar guyWe’re so on the fly now as a society that spell checking is something done by the computer alone. We here at Mandatory are afraid that with the way the English language is headed, we need to do something to combat its slow decline. Therefore, we’ve put together a list of some of the most commonly confused words that people use on a regular basis, as well as how to use them correctly from now on. Do we consider ourselves heroes for this? No (just patriots).

Affect, Effect

Affect is usually a verb that means “to influence,” while effect is usually a noun meaning “result” or “the result of.” As a verb, however, it means “to bring about.”

Easy way to remember: When something affects you, it has an effect on you (A comes before E).

All Right (not Alright)

Alright is the lazy man’s all right. You should do your best to refrain from using “alright” in your day-to-day life in terms of writing. It’s incorrect and not widely accepted in the grammar world (even though it isn’t even corrected anymore with spell check). However, say it aloud however you like. It doesn’t really make much difference in that regard.

Easy way to remember: “Alright” is not all right.

A Lot (not Alot)

Alot is another spelling that should be avoided, as it is two words. The phrase a lot (when used as a noun) means “a large extent, a large amount, or a large number.” Even as an adverb, it means “to a great extent.”

Easy way to remember: You wouldn’t write “acat” when referring to a cat. Similarly, don’t use “alot” to refer to a large extent, amount, or number.

Assume, Presume

To assume something means that you suppose it to be true, especially without proof. When you presume, however, you are taking something for granted as being true because there is no evidence to the contrary. Basically, you are smarter to presume than assume.

Easy way to remember: When you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” That’s not grammatically accurate (which sucks considering that’s the whole point of this piece), but again, presuming is the more intelligent option.

Blond, Blonde

This word derives from French, which means it has masculine and feminine forms. Quite simply, blond refers to a man, and blonde refers to a woman. As an adjective, you’d use the masculine form unless you were specifically using it to describe a female. For instance, if you were to stumble upon a lock of this particular type of hair in the street, regardless of how creepy it would be, you’d say it was blond hair.

Easy way to remember: Men are simple. Women are complex. Hence, the added “e.” If you somehow find that sexist, then you don’t want to read my blonde joke bumper sticker.

Breath, Breathe

Breath is a noun referring to “the air coming in or going out of the lungs.” Breathe is a verb referring to “the act of inhaling and exhaling.” It’s not complicated, yet the two words are often confused with one another when written.

Easy way to remember: When you breathe, you inhale and exhale breath.

Disinterested, Uninterested

If someone is disinterested, it means that they are “impartial or unbiased about something.” However, if they are uninterested, it means that they simply “have no interest in it.”

Easy way to remember: A judge need be disinterested, but never uninterested.

e.g., i.e.

Although neither of these are words, they are both used incorrectly quite often. e.g. stands for the Latin exempli gratiā, or “for example.” i.e. is Latin for id est, meaning “that is.” Therefore, you only use it if you are giving the only example(s) to quality your statement, as in “The photo was signed by the last surviving ‘Golden Girl,’ i.e., Betty White.”

Easy way to remember: “e.g.” and “example” both start with “e.” “i.e.” starts with “i,” which is the Roman numeral for one.

Farther, Further

The word farther refers to “a physical distance,” while further simply means “more.” You could also think of it as “an extension of time or degree.”

Easy way to remember: No matter how hard you try, you can never “farther” your career.

Fewer, Less

Everybody likes to feel smart once in a while, just don’t let this little nugget get you beaten up at the supermarket. Fewer refers to quantities you can count, such as items in your cart, while less refers to quantities you can’t count, such as a liquid. Obviously, you can measure amounts of a liquid, but not if you are just drinking it out of a bottle. For instance, you’d ask someone for less soda if they gave you too much, not fewer soda.

Easy way to remember: “10 items or less” should really be “10 items or fewer.” Don’t even get us started on “greater than or less than.”

Have, Of

We have no intention of treating you guys like complete idiots. We just put this one here so you never write or say something like “could of” instead of “could have,” which would be completely asinine.

Easy way to remember: There is no contraction for the word “of.” We should’ve just said that in the first place.
guy with dictionary, man in library
Imply, Infer

To imply something means that the person talking is indirectly suggesting it. To infer means to come to a conclusion based on what you’ve heard.

Easy way to remember: The speaker implies, while the listener infers.


Please, just stop using irregardless. It’s not a word, and you sound really stupid when you use it. Yes, we understand that it is technically in the dictionary, but it’s listed as nonstandard, which means it’s in wide use, but not proper. If you are going to continue saying and writing it despite (otherwise known as “regardless of”) our plea, just know that it is actually a double-negative, and would therefore mean “with regard.”

Easy way to remember: We actually don’t want you to remember this one. Forget it forever.

Its, It’s

Its is possessive, much like “my” or “your.” It means “belonging to it.” It’s, however, is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.”

Easy way to remember: If the word you are trying to say isn’t short for “it is” or “it has,” then the word is most likely “its” with no apostrophe.

Lay, Lie

To lay something means to do so with an object, as in to place it. To lie means to recline or rest on a surface. Sadly, the past tense of lie is lay (unless referring to the opposite of telling the truth, in which case it’s lied), so it can get a little confusing.

Easy way to remember: Replace the word “lay” with “set,” and the word “lie” with “sit.” If you can’t decide whether you need to lay or lie down after downing an entire taco Bell Big Box in one sitting, ask yourself if you should set or sit instead. Whichever sounds better, replace it with its corresponding word, and you’ll have your answer.

Literally (figuratively)

We’ve gotten a little annoying as a society with the word literally. No one is so hungry that they could literally eat a whole cow, because that would mean that that is exactly what they could do. The word we are looking for most of the time is figuratively, which means metaphorically or as a figure of speech.

Easy way to remember: Just tell us what you are so hungry that you could actually eat. It might still be pretty funny.

Than, Then

Again, one of these words refers to time, and the other doesn’t. Than is a conjunction comparing two things. Then is an adverb signifying time.

Easy way to remember: Then and when rhyme, and both refer to time.

Their, There, They’re, There’re

We’re not trying to comfort a small child; we’re just showing you the many variations of these similar sounding words and conjunctions. Their is possessive. The object belongs to them. There is referring to a location. They’re and there’re are contractions for “they are” and “there are.”

Easy way to remember: We don’t think you’ll forget. These words, particularly their and there, are just easily mixed up if typing too quickly. Just make sure to slow down and double check.


We know this sounds more like a Louis C.K. bit than anything else, but in a similar fashion to the word literally, unique is grossly misused in our society. While it is not so much overused, people tend to put words like “very” or “really” in front of it. The word already means one of a kind. Putting more qualifying words in front of it is just redundant.

Easy way to remember: Just like a unicorn, unique means that if you see one, you’re unlikely to see another, no matter how special it seems.

Your, You’re

Your is possessive. It belongs to you. You’re is a contraction for “you are.”

Easy way to remember: Read both forms of the word as “you are” in the sentence. If it sounds silly, go with your.