We’re all smart people, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune from occasionally using the English language in bizarre and even incorrect ways (your cue to start scouring this article for typos). 99.9% of the time, a gaffe as innocent as using the wrong there/their/they’re in an email or beginning an explanation with “for all intensive purposes…” instead of “for all intents and purposes…” is a passable offense. It’s the other .1% of the time that will get you. You know, the time when you’re trying to impress a prospective client during a make-or-break meeting or after you submit a 10-page white paper for review. That’s because, in the wrong scenario, harmlessly misusing a word can feel like getting caught with evidence to a crime you didn’t commit, a crime that will dispute your intelligence and erase your professional credibility.
No one wants to be remembered as the guy or gal who didn’t know the difference between maximize and optimize, so here’s a quick guide to save you from falling victim to some of the most misused words on the planet:
**And yes, I am a genius wordsmith.**
Comprised vs. Composed
“Remember, the marketing strategy we’re designing composes a variety of tactics, which comprise a multi-channel approach.” Wait…what?
Yeah, that sentence isn’t correct. Comprise and compose often get used interchangeably to describe a bunch of little things that make up one big thing, and that’s not always the case.
Comprise means “to include or consist of,” and compose means “to make up or form the basis of”—two entirely different actions. Just remember that the pizza comprises eight slices and eight slices compose the pizza.
Ironic vs. Coincidence
Irony and coincidence are two concepts that get mistaken for each other all the time. Ever run into the same person three times in the same day and remark about how ironic it was? Well, if you did, you’d be wrong.
A coincidence describes an event where two individual components share unlikely similarities. The example above is a coincidence—you and the other person happened to be at the same place three separate times during the day. What a coincidence!
Something is ironic when two components are or act the exact opposite of what you expect, often to an amusing end, like your hairdresser having terrible hair or a traffic cop being a dangerous driver.
Agreeance vs. Agreement
Ah, agreeance. It’s like if agreement had the type of cousin who wears nubby sweaters in the summertime, reads the Illiad for fun and snickers condescendingly when you show interest in the music of Mumford & Sons. Actually, if the word agreeance was this type of cousin, he would use the word agreeance!
There’s nothing grammatically wrong with using agreeance in place of its more acceptable everyman cousin. It’s just that, as you can see from the Dictionary.com citation below, the word is obscure, antiquated and unbelievably pretentious. So, if agreeance finds its way out of your mouth and people start looking at you funny, it’s not because they’re questioning your intelligence or professionalism—it’s because they just think you’re an obnoxious, self-important blow-hard.
Despite popular belief, irregardless is a real word. However, it is recognized as a nonstandard word due to its double negative (ir- and -less), and linguistics experts prefer you use synonym phrases like regardless or irrespective in its place. Irregardless of its validity, the word will make you sound wrong…see?
Imply vs. Infer
Here are two other words that often get used interchangeably. To imply is to make a suggestion indirectly. It’s like when your friend hands you a stick of gum—he might be implying that you have stank breath. If you take his hint, you would then be inferring that your breath stinks. Should you ever get caught in the imply/infer dilemma, just remember that to infer is to be on the receiving end of imply.
More Reputation-Saving Tips from the Copywriter’s Desk:
The voice of his generation. (At least, that’s what his mom calls him.) The words that best describe Aaron are hard-working, alpha male, jackhammer, merciless and insatiable. His special skills include karaoke, loud phone talking and speaking in the third person. If you’re up for it, ask him about the time he scored a goal against Glasgow Celtic F.C. ****4.92 Uber Driver rating.