10 Phrases to Purge From Your Speech & Writing

Word Savvy

The following is excerpted from Word Savvy by Nancy Ragno, recently released by Writer’s Digest Books.


The following mistakes occur so often that they have come to sound and look correct. Undoubtedly, you will recognize some entries as known errors, but others may give you pause: “Is that an error? I didn’t realize that.”

Since the list is a manageable size, a brief scan will quickly tell you what you need to learn. Show your superior word savvy. Purge the following offenders from your speech and your writing.

1. Alot

Not a word. Instead, use two separate words: a lot. A lot means “a large number or amount; to a great degree or extent.”

2. Alright

Not a word. Write it as two words: all right. Because all right is commonly spoken as one word, it is mistakenly written that way. All right means “very well, okay, without a doubt.”

CORRECT: After the storm, we checked the property to make sure everything was all right.

3. By the power invested in me

The correct phrase is by the power vested in me. Invested usually refers to financial transactions. Vested means “bestowed on; conferred on.”

INCORRECT: By the power invested in me by the State of New Jersey …

CORRECT: By the power vested in me by the State of New Jersey …

4. Could care less

The correct phrase is could not care less or couldn’t care less.

INCORRECT: I could care less about ice hockey.

This is illogical. It means that the speaker cares about ice hockey but possibly could care less about it.

CORRECT: I am not at all interested in ice hockey and couldn’t care less about it.

5. Could of

The correct expression is could have.

INCORRECT: I could of danced all night!

CORRECT: I could have danced all night.

6. Final ultimatum

This phrase is redundant since ultimatum encompasses the meaning “final.” Use ultimatum by itself, without a modifier. Ultimatum means “a final statement of terms; one’s last word on a subject.”

7. For all intensive purposes

The correct phrase is for all intents and purposes. It means “for all practical purposes; in effect.”

CORRECT: These unsold items from our garage sale are, for all intents and purposes, useless.

8. Heart-wrenching

Not a word. It may have originated by mistakenly connecting it to the similar word gut-wrenching. The correct word is heartrending. Heartrending means “inciting anguish, arousing deep sympathy; extremely moving.”

CORRECT: The Derby opened with a heartrending rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

9. Hone in on

The correct phrase is home in on. It means “to aim at a target” (as a homing pigeon aims at its home). In contrast, to hone means “to sharpen” (as you would hone a blade to sharpen it).

CORRECT: Police are homing in on the robbery suspect.

10. Irregardless

Not a standard word. Instead, use regardless. Regardless means “in spite of; without regard for.”

CORRECT: I must have that ring regardless of its cost.


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Nancy Ragno

Nancy Ragno

Nancy Ragno earned her master's at New York University and is a former teacher, lecturer, and textbook author.

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84 Comments on "10 Phrases to Purge From Your Speech & Writing"

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Kelly Salasin

you had me until “heart-wrenching”
if that’s not an expression
let’s make it one

Sonia Rumzi

I agree. Shakespeare made up lots of words and phrases. Language is a slave to people not the other way around. If some of these are not acceptable use, why not? I understand grammatical errors but not words like “heart-wrenching”.

Sophia Chang

I’m on board! I’ve coined many a slang term during college that still gets thrown around by old colleagues!

Heather Harshman

 Merriam-Webster is always updating terms as new ones are created. We should petition to have heart-wrenching added!

Sarah

I have to think about whether I’ve ever used heart-wrenching… it’s entirely possible. I bow my head in shame.

I have to take slight issue with “I could care less” as an error. While the phrase has always bugged me, it’s so common that I think it qualifies as idiomatic and therefore not really a “mistake” in non-formal speech or writing. In other words: resistance is futile.

Great list. Thanks!

Ramona

I agree with all the others, but I’m with Kelly.  I’ve used “heart-wrenching” and I’ll probably use it again.  “Heart-rending” sounds weak in comparison and very old-fashioned.

Tony McFadden

Great list.

One more, one which I’ve heard very smart people use incorrectly. ‘Penultimate’. Many people think this means ultimate +1, or super-ultimate when in fact it means the second from last. 

Dodger

Same for “decimated”–it’s quite relieving when on rare occasion one sees a movie or TV show use the term correctly.

Darrelyn Saloom

I adore this type of book because we all need reminding. I think people are confused about “all right” because “alright” is often used in dialogue. But it’s never fine to use “alot” and that’s the mistake I see most often.  

Laura Kenney

My father always helped me (and his students) remember this one by asking us to say to ourselves, “It’s either all right or all wrong.”  You wouldn’t say “alwrong,” right?

Ellen K.

If there’s a difference between “alwrong” and “all wrong” in speech, I don’t see it.  Spaces between words are a writing things, not something that exists in anything we say.

Laura Kenney

You are absolutely all right 😉

Emma Burcart

Thank you! Those are really good to know. I think Myriad should be added to the list. When I see someone has written “a myriad of” I stop reading right away. I think this is a book worth checking out, so thank you for the post.

Ruby

I agree! And plethora!

Laura Kenney

Hi, Emma. While using “myriad” on its own reads and sounds better, “a myriad of” is grammatically correct. Do you stop reading because you don’t like the word or the usage? Just curious! 

Florence Fois
Jane, thank you for introducing Nancy Ragno to your readers. Oh yes, indeed. I search and destroy those, directional pronouns like “he sat “down” in the chair.” and a host of other annoying, incorrect or misplaced phrases or tags. I will probably never get the double consonant thing down, I might continue until death spelling phoentically, but I have two readers who know my major weakness and help me rid my work of same, and absolutely I will never cease to rid my work of repetitive words or phrases. This book will be a great addition to my library of books on… Read more »
Jane Friedman

For the record, I’d like everyone to know I’m a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist. While I’m mindful of the rules, language changes … and should change.

That said, it’s helpful to know when prescriptivists are silently judging you.

Dave
On thing about “could of,” or all of them, for that matter: You could have a character that talks or writes that way. I once had a Hollywood script reader say he would throw out any script that used “could of” because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the language. “But,” I asked, “what if it’s used in dialog by an ignorant character that’s introduced on page 55 in a script you thought was well written until then?” He stood his ground. “If you don’t know that ‘could of’ is wrong, you don’t know how to write.” He did… Read more »
Bettye Griffin

I agree that inaccurate, ungrammatical phrases are okay in dialogue. Even the best-educated person isn’t necessarily going to speak flawless English.

Solar Fuel

Perhaps the script reader objected to “could of” as a replacement for “could’ve” because the two expressions generally sound the same in speech. The mistake is only in the writing, and wouldn’t be heard even in dialectic speech. Contrast that with “ain’t” which can be clearly heard.

Connie Myres

I’m guilty of using “alot” and “alright.” I’m constantly learning.LOL

Lovespoet

Alright is still correct in Microsoft Word

Marilyn Meredith

These days I see alright in a lot of published books and it jumps out at me.

Petrea Burchard

I agree with Kelly! “Heart” and “wrenching” are words that go together nicely. There’s no reason not to use them that way if the need arises.

As for the others: is it impolite to give your book to my phrase-challenged friends?

Gregory Korte

I remember William Safire once riffing on “irregardless.” Since “regardless” means “without regard to” and “ir-” means “not,” why not go all the way with the double-negative “disirregardless?”

Darin Ramsey

I still insist that claims something “is not a word” are false on their face; of course it’s a word, you just used it. Usually when people say “(X) is not a word,” what they are trying to say is, “(X) is incorrect,” or “(X) is a common misuse or misspelling.”

That said, while I’d never let “alright” stand in reports for my clients, it is acceptable for most informal uses, such as dialog.

Anonymous

Oh, my.  You forgot to include, “very unique.” 

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

Oh yes, I shudder when I see “very unique.”

Lloyd Lemons

I think I’m improving as a wordsmith! The only one I think I misuse is #8, heart-wrenching.

BrielleZbub

If I were caught using any of these I’m sure my muse would serve me hemlock tea – alright?

Grace Peterson

Love, love, love this! I had a minor argument with my hubby over “all right.” He thought that using “alright” was okay. I said no. I need to show him this post! Number 9 is another one I see misused. I taught myself this: Home=zero in on, Hone=sharpen. I always have the captions on when watching TV and it’s fun to see how the invisible translators do. Thanks for a great post.

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Sandihershenson

Wonderful article!

Anne R. Allen

Amen. As an editor, I was amazed at how many otherwise literate writers used  “alot” and “alright”. “Intensive purposes” always makes me laugh. I’ve also run into  “heart-rendering” which always makes me imagine a heart in a frying pan, slowly cooking out the fat.

I’d love to add to the list “begs the question” when used to mean “brings up the question”. “Beg” in that phrase means “avoid” as in “beg off” 

Patricia Woodside

I’m with you on every one except “alright.”  I remember learning this word in grade school, specifically having it on a spelling test.  So I looked it up and here’s what I discovered (Merriam-Webster online dictionary):

The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years afterall right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and businesspublications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing .First Known Use of ALRIGHT1887

Jodi Aman

This made me laugh since people use these all the time.  As a psychotherapist, it is really not my job to correct them.  I keep a straight face, but giggle inside. 

Lexi Revellian

Do you know, I’d always assumed that “could care less” was American usage, as I’ve seen it so often on Kindleboards. It’s always puzzled me, for the reasons you give.

And what about “guilt-wracked” when it should be “racked”?

Katriena Knights

>>INCORRECT: I could care less about ice hockey.

This is illogical. It means that the speaker cares about ice hockey but possibly could care less about it.

>>CORRECT: I am not at all interested in ice hockey and couldn’t care less about it.

I think the REAL lapse in logic here is how could anybody NOT CARE ABOUT ICE HOCKEY?!!!

Seriously, though, a nice list of errors I see quite often when I’m editing.

Glenda Parker

Thank you for your post. I really appreciate your help and will try to stay a way from these phrases. I might have to go back and review some of my work. I will be careful in the future.

Glenda Parker
http://glendaparkerfictionwriter.blogspot.com

Colin Beveridge

Personally, I like THIS alot (don’t shoot me, the link will explain!): http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html 

Brianm

“I could care less about Hockey” is an accurate statement, since I do watch it at the Olympics but otherwise have very little interest. Since I care a nonzero amount I could therefore care less.

Of couse, the same could be said for things I do care a lot about. So a more accurate statement would be “I care very little, but a nonzero amount, about Hockey”

Suzie Quint

The one that drives me crazy is when people write: If they think (whatever), they’ve got another thing coming. Yet I’ve seen this in published books.

That makes no sense at all. What they have is “another think  coming.” 

Jennifer Barber

Heart-wrenching. Guilty. But it’s a good one and think it should be allowed.

Ann Louise Truschel

Stop using “impact” as a verb and a gerund. It’s a noun, folks!

Christine Grote

Well, according to Websters, impact is a verb meaning “to have an impact on,” or “to strike forcibly.” The error with impact comes when people use the nonword, “impactful.” That one made my college professor have a fit.

Lawrence E. Forbes

I’ve been guilty of numbers eight and nine. Speaking of numbers, I have a question: Aren’t you supposed to begin sentences with the written version of the numeral, instead of the digits themselves?

Jane Friedman

It is common that style guides (such as AP and CMOS) will instruct you to spell out a number at the beginning of a sentence. It’s not a grammatical error, though—a stylistic concern.

Ms Skirbunt

I’ll give up my “irregardless” when you pull it from my cold, dead figurative fingers.

Rosemary Dun

thanks goodness I can’t stand the wrong use of couldn’t care less!

Catherine Czerkawska
Agree with all except alright, but maybe there is a difference between UK and US English here (as there is with so many spellings!) Alright is correct in the UK. Heart wrenching drives me mad, although I can see that it ‘sounds’ fine, so perhaps I’m being pedantic. I have a horrible feeling it’s going to enter the language anyway, just as ‘bored of’ undoubtedly has. I say ‘bored with’ but it’s a sign of my age, I’m afraid 🙂  My old linguistics tutor at Edinburgh University used to drum into us the maxim, ‘Words do not have meanings. People have… Read more »
Dodger

The reason for “bored of” is that “bored with” has an ambiguous meaning. Two people sitting home with nothing to do can be bored with one another without either being the reason for the boredom.

Arguably the sensible construct would be “bored from” or “bored by” but the former sounds weird and the latter sounds harshly accusing.

JR Tomlin

I am not sure, in the case of a metaphor, that you can dismiss “heart-wrenching”. It is fairly descriptive. As a writer, I’m not convinced by a “not a word” argument, since I can invent new words or use ones that are becoming standard.

The others I’ll have to go along with. I hate alright with rather a passion although that’s probably a losing battle. “By the power invested in me” is just funny.

cast29

Language will evolve regardless of our grumping about this or that rule.  That said, I agree with some of the previous commentators that it should be allowed in dialogue if it’s appropriate for the character. 

I notice the incorrect use of words, but I assume it’s laziness or the lack of a dictionary.  Common usage doesn’t always qualify a word or words for elevation to accepted status.

Thanks for the post – I’ve never used heart-wrenching but it gives me image of
someone squeezing out the last drop of blood.  All right, I may have used alright until corrected… 

Kathleen01930

“Hone in on”
Thank you! You have no idea how that one annoys me.

lighthousesafar

“After the storm, we checked the property to make sure everything was all right.” Is  the phrase “everything was all” redundant? Perhaps it would be better stated as simply “everything was right.” Or, if one wishes to use the term at hand and considering “the property” is a singular noun, one could say: “After the storm, we checked the property to make sure it was all right.”

Dodger

And since the wind was blowing from the left, everything was, in fact, all right.

Scott

“Heart” is a word. “Wrench” is a word. Something could very easily be “heart-wrenching”. As such, there’s nothing wrong with it grammatically, and it is perfectly acceptable to use.
Good work trying to insert your own personal opinion into an article about grammar errors, though.

Carradee

Hm.  Technically, isn’t “could care less” intended sarcasm and regional dialect?  And “heart-wrenching” could be a coining, since those words actually make sense together.

Also, redundant statements can be more effective for getting a response.  That’s why the phrase “free gift” is so popular in copy writing.

Just my thoughts on that.  ^_^  I’ve seen my share of poor abused words, myself.  The “firstly” thing drives me batty.

Carol Buchanan

My favorite wrong phrase is “very unique.” Unique is the ultimate quality of being singular, one of a kind and neither needs nor takes a qualifier.

Tonya

Thank you for this post. “Irregardless” has always been one to make me cringe!

S. McFly

Alright was not a word, but it has become one. It’s been in use since 1887 and is in the dictionary. It has a different usage from “all right.” The former is used as a measure of quality, whereas the latter is used when things are all in order.
“Hone in on” is correct. As the blade sharpens, it comes to a sharp point. The phrase is used to describe focus being narrowed, much like the blade.

Solar Fuel

“Hone in” is just not a natural construction, any more than “sharpen in” is. It is obviously an eggcorn for the original “home in”.

Sophia Chang

Irregardless is a pet peeve of mine

Amy Denim

Can we please add the misuse of ‘literally’ to this list.  It figuratively blows the top off my head when people say something was done literally, even when using it as hyperbole.

Erica

I appreciate your list.  May I suggest that the word hopefully is also used when often what people mean is (I am hopeful that I will get the job or whatever but not hopefully).  Thanks.

Patricia Gligor

“Word Savvy” is a great idea for a book. I laughed when I read most of the examples that Nancy listed but had to stop to think for a second about some of the others.

Forliz

Might I could care less not convey sarcasm?

Cwparis7

NO shortage of linguistic pet peeves in my corner. Like “step foot” into something instead of “set foot.”  An albatross around someone’s neck so I  guess no one is getting off the ground. The word is millstone.  Then there’s “hesitancy” instead of “hesitation,”  “relevancy” instead of “relevance” and “competency” instead of “competence.”  Nouns used as verbs? Impact, advantage……  Do not get me on that soapbox! 

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