Often times, especially in business, people use words they think they know, but they don’t.

Although they do this for the purpose of appearing smart and sophisticated, it backfires, as even a small mistake can cause an audience to focus solely on it, not on the speaker’s ideas.

As writers of several grammar books, we have dealt with many confusing and misused words and phrases in American English. Here are some of the most common:

1. “unfavorable” and “downpour”

Two words with only a “d” to distinguish them, but which are used in very different ways. Usually a person is aversion about something, while a thing or situation is negative. Another difference: in most cases, if it comes just before a name, it should be “unfavorable” and not “unfavorable”.

  • The cat had a negative reaction to the drug.
  • The cat was aversion to the taste of the drug.

2. “effect” and “affect”

Switching “effect” and “affect” is one of the most common mistakes students make on SAT and ACT exams. “To affect” is almost always a verb meaning to act, to make a change in something. “Effect” is usually a noun and usually means a change that has already happened, a change that was the result of something else acting on it.

  • The heat affected wife.
  • The heat had a effect on the woman.

3. “chew the bit” and “chew the bit”

It’s “champing”, although a lot of people say “chew”, so you won’t raise too many eyebrows if you say it incorrectly. This expression has existed at least since 1577, when it refers to horses that grind anxiously – or gnaw – their teeth before a race. Now it refers more to people who are very eager to do something.

  • The quarterback was chomping at the bit to return to the game.
  • We are chomping at the bit try to correct this error.

4. “copywrite” and “copyright”

Remember, you don’t writing what you wrote, you Copyright this. “Copyright” is a legal right (notice the “right”) that gives the creator of an original work the exclusive legal right in it. “Copywriting” is something people do in advertising – they write copy (or text). By the way, nobody says “copywrite” without the “ing”, they “write a copy”.

  • Original written works are protected by Copyright law.
  • High editor at the ad agency writes a stellar copy.

5. “rooted” and “rooted”

It is “rooted” and not “rooted”. You can see from the original meaning: to have its seat far below the surface. The phrase soon came to mean “firmly established” (except perhaps in most tournament sports, where “ranking” refers to the ranking of competitors).

  • I don’t know why, but I have a deeply rooted fear of clowns.
  • We have an deeply rooted dislike of people who write or say incorrectly “rooting”.

6. “discreet” and “discreet”

“Discreet” means able to keep secrets or discreet. “Discreet” means separate or distinct. Both come from the same Latin word, but have evolved into very distinct words that are often confused. We have seen sex toys advertised as being shipped in “discreet” packaging, which only means that they are shipped separately.

  • People always felt comfortable telling her her secrets because she was so discreet.
  • The rooms were arranged in discreet heap.

7. “first come, first served” and “first come, first served”

“First come, first served” is fair. This usually means that the customers who come to a store or place first are served first. Without the “d” at the end of “serve,” it looks like the first person should serve everyone. Not much of an advantage for early risers.

  • Since the seats are on a first come, first served basic, it is best to arrive early.
  • Supplies are limited and orders will be fulfilled on a first come, first served based.

8. “for all practical purposes” and “for all practical purposes”

It should be “for all intents and purposes”. “Intensive” is an adjective meaning vigorous or comprehensive. “Intents” is a name that signifies a goal. They are obviously not interchangeable. (Even when used correctly, this phrase is often frowned upon as a cliché. There are simpler ways of saying what it means, such as “mostly”.)

  • As I only have a four day work week, for all intentions and objectives, Thursday is my Friday.
  • For all purposes, we should always respect social distancing.

9. “refine” and “house”

Never say “refine”. You residence in. “Homing in” initially described carrier pigeons returning home, then in the 1920s described planes and missiles guided towards a target. From there, it usually meant anyone or anything focusing or pointing towards a goal. “Hone”, on the other hand, means “to sharpen,” as with a knife.

  • Were head toward on the correct solution to this problem.
  • The researchers are head toward quickly on the source of the virus.

10. “with regard to” and “with regard to”

It is “with regard to”. Or better yet, just say “concerning”. You can say “regarding” or offer someone your “best regards”, both with the “s”. But when it comes to “with regard to”, leave that “s” aside!

  • I had a long conversation with him about his loan application.
  • The teacher spoke to the students about Their duties.

11. “should” and “should have”

If, like too many people, you said “should”, well, you have chose the second version. “To have” is the main verbal part of this sentence, and it should always be included, either as the complete “to have” or as the contraction “‘ve”. The misuse of “of” comes from the way this contraction sounds.

  • I have never used “should of” in this sentence!
  • These plates were expensive .. you have been more careful.

12. “simplistic” and “simple”

Simplistic means “characterized by a lot of simplicity” – which sounds good, but almost always means too much simplicity, as in too simple a solution to a complex problem. (And never edit simplistic with “too much” or similar words. Since “simplistic” already means too simple, “too simplistic” means something is “too, too simple.”)

  • The politician gave a simplistic answer to the town hall’s question on taxes. At least he used Easy Language.
  • here is a Easy But no simplistic golden rule: “Simple” = good, “simplistic” = bad.

13. “road difficult to hoe” and “row difficult to hoe”

Can a road ever be easy to hoe? To make sense, it should be a “hard to weed row,” which originally came from agriculture. In a cornfield there are several rows, and some can be much more difficult to hoe than others. Ask any farmer. But because roads are more common than rows in today’s urbanized world, people commonly (and mistakenly) say “the hard road to follow.”

  • Reaching the top of a career ladder in a competitive industry can be a row difficult to weed.
  • Sobriety is a row difficult to weed.

14. “tow the line” and “follow the line”