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Top 5 Most Commonly Misused Phrases

Looking like a fool is never fun. Many non-native speakers of English try not to speak the language as much as possible in order to avoid making mistakes and embarrassing themselves. But what they may not realize is that native English speakers themselves make ridiculous mistakes in English that are probably more embarrassing than making a simple grammatical error. Let’s take a look at some of the most common incorrectly used expressions and learn how they should be used.

1. The wrong way: “I could care less if you bought a marker.”

What this means: It’s so interesting that you bought a marker. I don’t have to care about the marker that you bought, but I do care. I’m so interested. Please tell me more about it.

What it should be: “I couldn’t care less if you bought a marker.”

What this means: I really don’t care that you bought a marker. I am in no way interested in the marker that you bought.

2. The wrong way: “I was literally swimming in a pool of tears after he broke up with me.”

What this means: I cried so much that my tears made a pool, and I swam in it. I physically swam in a pool filled with tears.

What it should be: “It was as if I were swimming in a pool of tears after he broke up with me.”

What this means: I wasn’t really swimming in a pool of tears because I know it’s impossible to cry enough to make a pool. It just felt like there were enough tears to make a pool because I cried so much.

3. The wrong way: “For all intensive purposes, you should go ahead with your speech.”

What this means: You must go on with your speech right away because the situation is so intense. Hurry up! Keep going!

What it should be: “For all intents and purposes, you should go ahead with your speech.”

What this means: You should go on with your speech because it’s a practical thing to do in this situation.

4. The wrong way: “It’s a doggy-dog world—some people will betray their friends just to get to the top.”

What this means: This world is like that of a doggy, a small dog. People betray their friends for success in this cute, puppy-like world.

What it should be: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world—some people will betray their friends just to get to the top.”

What this means: This world is merciless, where people will do anything to their own kind just to get what they want. It’s a vicious world.

5. The wrong way: “Irregardless of the weather, I am going to go swimming.”

What this means: “Irregardless” is not a real word. “Regardless” already means you do not care, so “irregardless” is redundant. When using this made up word, you are trying to say that you actually do care what the weather is like.

What it should be: “Regardless of the weather, I am going to go swimming.”
What this means: I don’t care what the weather is like. Whether it’s raining or snowing, I am still going to swim.

Are there other phrases that you’ve heard people use incorrectly? What are they? Share with us.


Rebecca Jee
Rebecca is a Pedagogy & Curriculum Associate and a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University pursuing a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics. Rebecca finds inspiration for her work in the way people interact with others and with their environments. Her focus is on sociolinguistic features of human interaction that can be integrated into the way people learn.