The English language is so complicated that even native speakers don’t get it right. When you misuse words, you may run the risk of completely changing the meaning of what you’re trying to communicate. The words that are misused most often are those that have a similar meaning or spelling to another word. Or, people just hear a word used incorrectly so often (and don’t know any better) that they repeat it and further butcher the language.
The word “effect” is a noun and verb that some people say when they mean “affect,” which is a verb. When there is an effect, there is a result, consequence or something that causes a change. For example, a boss can effect a change in your routine or a medication might have side effects. “Affect” means to influence, like a friend’s kind words affecting your self-esteem.
Are there “less” marbles in the jar or “fewer” marbles? Use the word “less” when you refer to a group or an amount, like when you have less money than last week or less than 20 minutes to get ready. Use the word “fewer” when you refer to things or people that you can count, like when there are fewer people at the book group or fewer marbles in one jar than another.
The word “lay” is a verb that means to place an item. This word is often confused with “lie,” which means to rest or recline. You might hear your neighbor tell her dog to lay down or hear your dad say that he needs to lay down when they should have really said “lie down.” To remember the difference between “lay” and “lie,” remember that chickens lay eggs and dogs lie down (as in, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”).
It is not uncommon to hear someone say the word “imply” when he means “infer.” To differentiate between the two words, remember that the listener infers. If you’re talking to a friend and he suggests an idea without actually saying it, he implies the idea. For example, if a person says that he’s up for anything for dinner as long as the meal comes with tortilla chips, salsa, rice and beans, he’s implying that he wants Mexican food. If you come to your own conclusion about a statement that a person makes, you infer the meaning. For instance, if a mom makes a teen check in every half hour while he’s out with his friends, the teen might infer that his mom doesn’t trust him.
“Ironic” is possibly the most “abused word in the English language,” according to Dictionary.com. People often use it to describe something that is a coincidence or out of the ordinary. When you correctly say that something ironic, you mean the opposite of what you say. For example, when you get a huge platter of nachos, you might say, “I don’t think that these will fill me up.” When a situation turns out to be different than you expected, it is ironic—like when your pregnant friend thinks that she’s going to have a boy and purchases blue baby items, but gives birth to a girl.