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Commonly Misused Phrases
This lesson describes some of the commonly misused phrases that would improve your communication if you avoided them Updated Oct 2023

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Francis Roberts

First Published

June 28, 2019

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By avoiding some of the commonly misused phrases in English you can improve your communication and hopefully improve your life.

This lesson will provide a list of some of the commonly misused phrases and offer better ways to communicate in an effective way.


It’s easy to fall into language traps that are all around us.

There is so much to learn about language that most of us can barely learn the basics. Learning some of the ‘nuances” seemed like a fools’ errand for people like me.

Yet, I still needed to learn as many of those nuances as I could, if I wanted to be an effective communicator.

And, of course, there’s something to be said for the ever-changing nature of common terms and phrases.

After all, the dictionary is an ever-evolving entity that adds phrases and words all the time to reflect common usage.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least strive for impeccable speech by understanding the best – or most commonly accepted – ways of saying certain words and phrases.

Little tweaks in your language can help convey that you understand exactly what phrase you’re saying and are using it properly.

Plus, if you’re writing an email or typing a response – and let’s be honest, so much communication that happens these days happens online – you’ll stay on top of using the right spelling and phrasing. And, hopefully, understanding the full context of where these common phrases come from

Keep in mind, too, that in some of these common phrases you won’t be able to hear the difference between the so-called “right” and “wrong” versions. And sometimes the “wrong” way to say something still has a perfectly legitimate meaning, even if it’s not the feeling you’re going for in that conversation.

Any advantage you can give yourself in the professional world, including use of proper language and phrases, can be really beneficial in your life and career. So, we researched common words and phrases that people too often get wrong. There’s a good chance you already know some of these, especially if you’re the type of person who is interested in language. But in case you want a quick refresher, here you go.

“For all intensive purposes” versus “For all intents and purposes”

Intensive indicates that something is powerful and focused. If you’re discussing an intensive purpose, you’re simply indicating one focused purpose, or perhaps a few very focused purposes. The more common phrases, for all intents and purposes, indicate that something is coming from more or less all important angles or opinions. So for all intents and purposes, all intensive purposes is usually the wrong thing to say.

“I could care less” versus “I couldn’t care less”

This is an extremely commonly misused phrase. While most people love to throw out that they “could care less” in an attempt to show how little they care about an issue, they’re actually communicating the opposite of the usual phrase’s intention. When you stop to think about what you’re saying, “could care less” means you not only care, but you care enough that you would have the ability to care less if you wanted to. If you’re trying to convey apathy, saying “I couldn’t care less” is much more accurate.

“One in the same” versus “One and the same”

When you and a friend are discussing two different instances that you realize happened with the same person, you’re discussing one and the same person. It’s hard to determine what one in the same thing might mean, since “one” is a noun yet “the same” isn’t exactly a specific location for that noun to go.

“On accident” versus “By accident”

When something happens by accident, nobody saw it coming. It was a happenstance instance. But when something happens on an accident, it means that whatever went down actually went down on top of an already existing accident. And, in reality, that’s likely not what you were trying to say. So try not to say on accident by accident when you’re trying to describe a mistake, since that will make it a double whoopsie.

“Fall by the waste side” versus “Fall by the wayside”

Though the movie Remember the Titans made the left side of the football team’s defensive line the “strong side,” people rarely label “sides” in everyday life. Even more rarely, would they call any side of something the “waste side.” Unless, of course, they’re discussing an area where physical garbage is present. So if you want to communicate that something hasn’t kept up with the rest of the group, use “wayside.”

“Self-depreciating” versus “Self-deprecating”

Self Deprecating
Don’t give yourself another reason to be self-deprecating about your colloquial abilities by using the incorrect phrase “self-depreciating.” Depreciation is an economic term to indicate that something is losing value. Though you can deprecate and be hard on yourself, by pointing out your flaws you’re not automatically losing any human value

“Irregardless” versus “Regardless”

Despite the fact that irregardless is technically in the dictionary, it is not a word most folks will ever need. To be fair, the phrase “tl; dr” (which means ‘too long; didn’t read’ for any non-Redditors out there) is also in the dictionary. Sometimes, colloquial words or phrases are added to the dictionary to reflect the fact that people are using them and to help other people understand what they might be saying.

But irregardless remains rather nonsensical (and repetitive), regardless of its place in the dictionary.

“Jive with” versus “Jibe with”

You’re more than welcome to jive with something. But just know that, at least in most business settings, you probably mean you jibe with it, not jive. To jive is a much more playful, often musical verb. But to jibe with something means you’re getting along with or understanding it. To jive with something means you’re likely spitting hot scat in the basement of a musical jazz club. So if that doesn’t jibe with what you’re trying get across, don’t use it.

“Tongue and cheek” versus “Tongue in cheek”

Tongue in cheek vs Tongue and cheek
It may be tongue in cheek to try and get another person to say tongue and cheek, since you’ll be insincerely attempting to get someone to say something meaningless. When something is said tongue in cheek, there’s a feeling of exaggeration, sarcasm, or irony involved. When something is said tongue and cheek, well, it can really only mean that two facial organs were involved

“Make do” versus “Make due

Both of these phrases are perfectly useful in different situations. If you want to make do with something, you’re getting by with whatever you have. Making due means creating a deadline or due date for something. So if an employer hasn’t made a specific project due and isn’t giving you the resources you need to do it properly, you make do with what you have and finish it whenever you want.

“Nip it in the butt” versus “Nip it in the bud”

Nip it in the bud
Let’s nip this commonly misused phrase in the bud right now. The origins of this phrase come from the idea of de-budding flowers. So there were actual buds involved. So think twice before you change that “bud” to a “butt” because you’ll be communicating something completely (and embarrassingly) different.

“Shoe-in” versus “Shoo in”

The difficult element of this phrase is that the wrong phrase (shoe in) has a really powerful visualization that makes it feel right. To say that someone has a “shoe in” to win feels like you’re trying to say they’ve already got their foot in the door (another common phrase). The actual phrase is a “shoo in” dates back to horse racing days when you could urge – or shoo – something towards victory

“Piece of mind” vs “Peace of mind”

When you want to give yourself peace of mind, you might consider giving someone who upset you a piece of your mind. And though they’re said the same, their spelling indicates two very different meanings. Peace of mind is what comes when you know the conclusion or outcome of something, often indicating something positive has resulted. Piece of mind is sharing a bit of your own thoughts with another person, and is often done when someone has upset or frustrated you. So if you’re emailing your boss to give them peace of mind, be sure it doesn’t include an angry piece of your mind.