Mastering a language is tricky business, particularly if you want to write well in it. One of the reasons is because you’ve got to know all of the different expressions, turns of phrase, and other quirks that give the language its unique contours. And while that may sound easy enough, it’s not always so straightforward when it comes time to use them correctly in written language. Between confusion over homonyms (words that have the same pronunciation or are spelled the same) and eggcorns (words or phrases that result from mishearing or misinterpretation of another), among other factors, it’s easy to get things wrong.
Below we’ve compiled a list of 25 different words and phrases that, as a writer, you’ve got to make sure you’re using correctly.
1. It’s 180-degree change, not 360-degree change
To say you’ve made a 180-degree change means that you’ve turned around and are now effectively doing the opposite of what you were doing before. By contrast, saying that you’ve made a 360-degree change means that you’re in the same spot you were before and haven’t really changed at all.
2. It’s beck and call, not beckon call
To be at someone’s beck and call means that you’re at their disposal and ready to do whatever they need. It often gets confused with the incorrect and nonsensical beckon call.
3. It’s chalk it up to, not chock it up to
To chalk something up means to give credit to something. A chock, on the other hand, is a wooden block you put under a wheel to keep it from moving.
4. It’s couldn’t care less, not could care less
Saying you couldn’t care less implies that there’s no way that you could care any less. When you say that you could care less, on the other hand, it means that there may still be some caring left in you.
5. It’s could have/should have/would have, not could of/should of/would of
Although they may sound very similar, could of, should of, and would of don’t exist as constructions in English, and should never be used when writing.
6. It’s deep-seated, not deep-seeded
Deep-seated means firmly established. And while deep-seeded may seem to make sense on some metaphorical level, it’s not the correct expression.
7. It’s each one worse than the last, not each one worse than the next
While it may at first seem that either version of this expression could work, the reality is that you’d have to be a psychic for that to be true. That’s because the expression sets up a comparison. Logically speaking, you can only compare things that you’ve already looked at and evaluated, not those that you haven’t yet but are going to next.
8. It’s eke out, not eek out
To eke something out means to make it last longer or go further. Eek, on the other hand, is just a word used to express surprise or fear, as in “Eek, a mouse!”
9. It’s fall by the wayside, not fall by the waste side
To fall by the wayside means to fail to continue or to drop out. To fall by the waste side is, well, simply incorrect.
10. It’s far be it from me, not far be it for me
Far be it from me, as in “far be it from me to interject, but…,” is often confused with far be it for me. The former is the correct version of the expression.
11. It’s first come, first served, not first come, first serve
People get this one wrong all the time. Just memorize it.
12. It’s for all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposesFor all intents and purposes means in every practical sense. For all intensive purposes is a commonly used eggcorn that may sound good, but doesn’t actually mean anything.
13. It’s free rein, not free reign
Having free rein means that you can do whatever you want. Having free reign, on the other hand, is just a common misuse of the homonym.
14. It’s hunger pangs, not hunger pains
Although being hungry may be uncomfortable, even painful at times, it’s correct to describe that sensation as having hunger pangs, not hunger pains.
15. It’s jibe with, not jive with
When something jibes with something else, that means that the two things are in accord or agreement with each other. Although jive with is a commonly used variation, jibe is the preferred form, particularly when writing.
16. It’s make do, not make due
To make do is short for making [something] do well enough, where the word do means to serve a specified purpose. It’s similar to the usage in the sentence, “I wanted waffles for breakfast, but pancakes will do.”
17. It’s moot point, not mute point
A moot point can be either an issue open for debate, or a matter of no practical value or importance because it’s hypothetical (the latter is the more common example of how we use the term today). A mute point, by contrast, doesn’t exist.
18. It’s statute of limitations, not statue of limitations
Statutes of limitations are laws. Statues of limitations are something you might find at a funky exhibit in a modern art museum.
19. It’s one and the same, not one in the same
Here’s another example of an eggcorn. Although both versions seem to make sense logically, one and the same is the correct version.
20. It’s scot-free, not scott-free
To get off scot-free means not to have to endure any punishment, but it’s often incorrectly written as scott-free.
21. It’s shoo-in, not shoe-in
A shoo-in is someone or something that’s certain to succeed or win a competition. A shoe-in, on the other hand, doesn’t have any particular meaning.
22. It’s different tack, not different tact
To take a different tack means to take a different approach. It’s an expression derived from sailing and has nothing to do with being tactful.
23. It’s you’ve got another think coming, not another thing coming
If you think people don’t get this one wrong, you’ve got another think coming. Unfortunately, people often mishear think as thing and so this eggcorn was born.
24. It’s on tenterhooks, not on tenderhooks
To be on tenterhooks means to be anxiously awaiting something. According to the Free Dictionary, “the expression is based on the literal meaning of tenterhook (a hook that holds cloth that is stretched to dry), suggesting that someone’s emotions are tightly stretched like a piece of cloth held by tenterhooks.”
25. It’s tongue in cheek, not tongue and cheek
Tongue in cheek means to speak or write in an insincere way. If you say or write tongue and cheek, you’re just listing two parts of the body.
While there are certainly plenty of other words and phrases that writers tend to get wrong, these ones are particularly common and, when used incorrectly, will make your writing look less professional. Hopefully, after reading this list, you’ve committed to memory the correct versions of any you may have had wrong.