6 Vocabulary Errors That Might Embarrass You to Death

This is NOT exactly the kind of post I’d like to write, but I guess I MUST. Despite being passionate about the English language, I’m still far from being perfect with my English writing skills. However, I cringe whenever I find people mispronounce or misuse some very common words in English vocabulary, which actually brings me to write this post. In this post, I will only talk about the words that people use wrongly both in writing and day-to-day speech.

So here are some words I have heard people abuse with gay abandon.

Improve vs. Improvise

Wrong: I want to improvise my communication skills.

Right: I want to improve my communication skills.

Explanation: The meaning of the verb “improvise” is performing a task without any prior preparation. The noun is “improvisation”. Both Improve and improvise may sound acoustically similar, but they are in no way related to each other. Grammatically speaking, improvement is the noun form of the verb “improve” while improvisation is the noun form of the verb “improvise”. Look at the following examples:

Example#1: Sachin Tendulkar has a great deal of improvisation skills. (This means that he has the ability to accelerate the run rate without taking much time to settle down.)

Example#2: Sonu Nigam’s ability to improvise onstage is second to none. (This means Sonu Nigam has the ability to sing any song without prior practice or rehearsal)

Historic vs. Historical

Wrong: This is a historical victory for the Indian cricket team.

Right: This is a historic victory for the Indian cricket team.

Explanation:  Grammatically speaking, both historic and historical are adjectives; however, they are not related to each other. Historical means something pertaining to the history and past. Historic means remarkable or extraordinary.

English Errors, English Usage Errors, Vocabulary Errors, English Mistakes

Reputed vs. Reputable

Wrong: TCS is a reputed software company in India.

Right: TCS is a reputable software company in India.

Explanation: Both reputable and reputed are used to define the reputation of an organization. However, when you say TCS is a reputed organization, it essentially means you’re not very sure of its reputation. On the other hand, when you say TCS is a reputable organization, it means there’s not an iota of doubt that TCS is a company of national repute.

However, the following example is acceptable:

Example: The company hired her because of her reputed skills as a content writer. (The company is fairly sure of her skills in content writing)

Reply vs. Revert

Wrong: I will revert to your email later.

Right: I will reply to your email later.

Explanation: The most commonplace where the abuse of “revert” is rampant is workplace. In professional communications, especially in India, professionals have a penchant for “revert” when all they want to mean is “reply”. Why do they do so? To show off their vocabulary skills, maybe. Ironically, they end up hurting their own image in the process.

Grammatically speaking, “revert” means restoring something to its original state. So when you say “I’ll revert”, you mean you will go back your previous state. I have no clue what you mean when you say that, but for sure, you don’t mean to go back to your original state. So what’s the correct usage of the word “revert”?

Correct Usage: After spending three months in the alcohol rehab, my brother reverted to his drinking habits again. (This means my brother returned to his old habits of drinking)

In this context, it is highly pointless to say “I’ll revert to your email later”. Technically, nobody can actually revert to an email J

NB: Some people often go overboard and say “I’ll revert “back” to your email later”. OMG, for the love of God, please read this post!

English Errors, English Usage Errors, Vocabulary Errors, English Mistakes

Pressure vs. Pressurize

Wrong: Stop pressurizing me!

Right: Stop pressuring me! (A line from the popular track Scream by Michael Jackson)

Explanation: According to freedictionary.com, the word “pressurize” means “to increase the pressure in (an enclosure, such as an aircraft cabin) in order to maintain approximately atmospheric pressure when the external pressure is low”.

For example: The captain will pressurize the cabin for the passengers’ comfort. (The captain will increase the pressure in the cabin to maintain the atmospheric pressure).

If you’ve ever travelled in an airplane or are a frequent flyer, you know what I mean.

However, pressurize can also be used to define the stress or strain although such use is quite informal, figurative and rare.

For example: He’s an executive who was pressurized by a heavy workload. (he’s subject to excessive stress, strain, or vexation)

 Staff vs. Staffs

Wrong: You’re the best staff in our company.

Right: You’re the best employee on our company staff.

Explanation: I have absolutely lost count of how often I hear this word being abused, both in writing and speech, on a daily basis. Blame it on the cultural orientation, and poor English skills of many teachers at elementary schools in India, many people have acquired a wrong impression about the word “staff”. Grammatically speaking, staff is collective noun, meaning a group of professional in a particular organization. Like the word “department”, staff also refers to two or more things or people as a group.

Therefore, you can’t afford to use the word “staff” to mean a single person when it effectively means a group.

For example: He is a reliable staff member. (NOT reliable staff)

Another Example: I would like to thank the staff of the Department of Technology for their help. (NOT staffs)

NB: As far as “staffs” is concerned, it can be used to mean a group of different departments in a company. However, such usage is quite rare. To know more about staffs, please take your time to read this. Also, you might also like to read this to understand the comprehensive usage of “staff”.

Disagree with any of my ideas? Feel free to reply (not revert) to me with your thoughts in the comment section.


Comments

  1. Avi says

    Great post and some good examples.

    However, I am still not clear about the following:

    “Wrong: Stop pressurizing me!

    Right: Stop pressuring me! (A line from the popular track Scream by Michael Jackson)

    For example: The captain will pressurize the cabin for the passengers’ comfort. (The captain will increase the pressure in the cabin to maintain the atmospheric pressure).

    However, pressurize can also be used to define the stress or strain although such use is quite informal, figurative and rare.

    For example: He’s an executive who was pressurized by a heavy workload. (he’s subject to excessive stress, strain, or vexation)”

    Are you saying that “pressurized” can be used in both situations? If yes, then where is the mistake?

    • Susanta says

      Don’t pressure your staff into obeying your orders. (active)

      They staff has been pressurized to obey the orders. (passive)

      I hope this answers your question. Thanks!

  2. Jim Parker says

    I often see “reputed” used incorrectly on resumes of people from India, as in the candidate works for a reputed bank. It still makes me laugh when I see this, as the first thing my mind thinks is the person works for a company that says it is a bank, but he is not sure.

    I did a web search to try and find out why it is misused so often by folks from India. It actually looks like it is being used incorrectly so often people just generally believe it is correct. The sad thing is that this kind of abuse of the word over time will change the definition of the word.

    Example:
    http://www.jobsearch.in/Reputed-Bank-jobs#email_alert_modal

  3. Jim Parker says

    Also, it is much better to say,
    “He’s an executive who was pressured by a heavy workload”
    than to say,
    “He’s an executive who was pressurized by a heavy workload”.

    The only reason pressurized is listed by any dictionary as acceptable here is because it has been misused so often. It is another example of people abusing the language; if it is done often enough then it becomes an accepted part of the language. It is the same way with reputed. My guess is that people from India will continue to abuse the word reputed long enough that it will become perfectly acceptable to say you work for a reputed bank.

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