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GRAMMAR SERIES: Commonly misused phrases

In our last article, we talked about some commonly misused words and how to use them correctly. Today, we’ll be discussing phrases that are often used incorrectly. As with misused words, the two common ways phrases don’t come across the way they’re intended are meaning and execution.

When the meaning of a phrase is misused, it means the writer has employed the phrase to convey something they didn’t intend to. Here are some common ones:

I couldn’t care less

Many people misspeak or miswrite this phrase as “I could care less.” However, the phrase is used to mean not caring about something, so if you can care less, you do care.

A complete 180

This phrase is used to mean doing the reverse of the originally intended action. Think about someone literally turning here. If they turn 180 degrees, they’re facing the opposite way of where they were originally headed—the reverse. Writers sometimes write that a character did a “complete 360,” but that would turn them in a circle and put them back where they started.

Jibe with

This one is often misused as “jive with,” but to jive with someone is to dance with them—which is correct if your character is dancing in a jive with someone! However, most people want to use “jibe with,” which means the same thing as “agreeing with.”

Pore over

To pore over something is to look it over with care. “Pour over” only works if your character is spilling liquid over something.

When a phrase is employed with the wrong words, it has been executed incorrectly. Some examples are:

You’ve got another think coming

This is frequently miswritten as “You’ve got another thing coming,” but the key word to focus on is “think,” like the phrase “Think again.” The phrase is used to correct a misconception, like in the following sentence: “If you think I’m going home with you, you’ve got another think coming!”

For all intents and purposes

The purposes themselves are not intensive, as is often miswritten in “for all intensive purposes.” The phrase here focuses on someone’s intent.

Should/would/could have

The phrase here is best understood in context, like in the full sentence “I should have done that earlier,” or in its past tense, like in “If I had done that earlier…” These words are often written the way they sound as “should of/would of/could of,” but that doesn’t convey the same thing, nor does it make grammatical sense.

Sneak peek

You’re trying to get a glimpse—a peek—at something. Unless your character is secretly reaching the top of something, they want a sneak peek, not a sneak peak. (Unfortunately, “peak” doesn’t have a place either in the phrase pique my interest.)

Remember: this list doesn't include all the phrases that can be misused, only the most common ones I see while editing and reading.

Stephi Cham is an editor at Write Plan. You can find her on Twitter at @stephiesque.


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