Grammar Check: 8 Common Phrases You’re Probably Getting Wrong

By November 9, 2017Communication

You’re about to sit down and meet with someone important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a potential investor, client, or a hiring manager because regardless of what role the person on the other side of the table holds, you want to make a great first impression. You’ve studied your materials. You’ve got a game plan. You’re even ready to impress by breaking out those 25-cent vocabulary words you once learned. You know your stuff and you’re ready to talk the talk that’s going to prove it.

Before you open that door and extend your hand in greeting, stop and read this. It’s true the words you say matter. Misusing a word or common phrase can quickly turn your professional presentation into a perceived display of ignorance. In speech and in writing, it happens to the best of us; but lucky for you, this list can help you get right the phrases that many get wrong:

Right: For all intents and purposes. Wrong: For all intensive purposes.

What you want to convey is “This is why I did all the things I did” or “for all practical purposes.”  When you swap “intensive” in for “intents” you’re switching up the meaning to reflect something closer to “for all the very thorough or vigorous purposes.”

Right: I couldn’t care less. Wrong: I could care less.

Odds are you’ve heard this one misspoken on a regular basis. We want to convey a sense of utter disinterest, and possibly even a touch of disdain. When you choose the former, you’re getting it right. You couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in the topic even if you tried. When you say, “I could care less,” however, the implication is that you do, in fact, care at least a little.

Right: Deep-seated. Wrong: Deep-seeded

If you’re switching these phrases around, you’re in good company. Correctica, an app that scans websites looking for errors that spell checkers miss, found this mistake on the sites of major media outlets. When something is “deep-seated,” it is firmly established.  The misused phrasing “deep-seeded” might seem logical (planted deeply), but it is not the common expression.

Right: Should have. Wrong: Should of

Let’s blame contracted speech for this slipup. The correct phrase “should have” is often spoken as the contraction “should’ve.” Sometimes, depending on how fast we’re talking or the influence of a regional accent, it might even sound more like “shoulda.” When we think about writing it out (or speaking it more slowly), that shortened form might manifest itself as the incorrect “should of.” Go slow. Get it right. While we’re on the subject, the same is true for could have/could of and would have/would of.

Right: Regardless. Wrong: Irregardless

This phrase is used incorrectly so often many of us are convinced that wrong is right. In fact, the wrong word even has its own, very proper entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Nonetheless, it’s still wrong. “Regardless” means just what it says: without regard or without paying attention to the present situation. Ir is a prefix that means “not” or the opposite of. When we add it to “regardless” we create a double negative: “Not without regard.” Ditch the prefix and just use the proper term.

Right: I’ve made a complete 180 [degree change]. Wrong: I’ve made a complete 360 [degree change]

We want to convey that we’ve made a drastic change. Think back to your geometry class. Making a 360-degree turn means you’ve come full circle. You’re right back to where you started. If you want to imply that you were unsure if you were on the right path, so you did some soul-searching and you’ve realized you were right where you should have been all along, then yes, you did a complete 360. On the other hand, if you’re implying that you’ve had a life-altering revelation and you’re on a new path, you’ve made a 180-degree change. You’re now headed in the proverbial opposite direction whence you came.  (Bonus tidbit: you’ve likely heard the phrase spoken or written as: “From whence you came.” However, “whence” means “from where.” Saying “from whence you came” is actually saying “from from where you came.” Even though it might sound off to our ears, skipping the “from” in the phrase is correct.)

Right: First-come, first served. Wrong: First come, first serve

What a big difference one little letter can make. In this instance, the wrong (and yet commonly used) phrasing means “The first to arrive should serve all those waiting on line behind them.” With the proper phrase, however, guests will be served in the order in which they arrived.

Right: Home in. Wrong: Hone in

You’ve likely heard (and said) the incorrect phrase so often you’re questioning its place on this list.  To “hone” means to sharpen. The goal of this article is to help you hone your vocabulary skills. To “home in” on something, on the other hand, means to move toward our goal. We hope this article helps you home in on better grammatical skills.

These commonly misused phrases are just the tip of the iceberg. To make things more complicated, many of us are transposing sets of words and phrases that are correct and incorrect on a situational basis. Stop back here next week as we dive into differences of words and phrases like “effect/affect” and “piece of mind/peace of mind” where context influences which is right and which is wrong.