7 Common Phrases and Expressions We Probably Misuse

As one of Lexcode Inc.’s editors of documents translated from Korean to English, I can’t help but cringe every time I spot spelling errors and grammar lapses, or whenever I come across ambiguous phrases and vague sentences. But hey, it happens to almost all of us! I also commit grammar slip-ups every now and then; sometimes, I still find myself inserting the wrong article, mixing up my prepositions, or using the incorrect verb tense. (I fix them in the end though.)

Among the countless crimes we commit against the English language, there’s something I recently found interesting—common phrases and expressions most people (including me some years ago) frequently get wrong. These are the tricky ones even the most seasoned grammar police occasionally have trouble with.

After doing some research, I came up with a list of sayings we probably misuse, most of which I usually encounter in the documents I edit, and some I frequently hear in daily conversations. Let’s start setting the record straight with seven of them!

1. He did good vs. He did well

If you think the words good and well mean the same thing and can be interchanged, then you’re wrong. Good is an adjective that means “of high quality” or “of a favorable character.” In contrast, well is an adverb that means “in a successful way” or “in a skillful manner.” For example, you may say “He sings well. He is a good singer.”

2. Irregardless vs. Regardless

A lot of people tend to say irregardless. If you’re one of those people, then you might want to check your vocabulary. Regardless means “without regard.” Thus, adding the prefix ir– to the word would result in a double negative, that is, “without without regard,” which, obviously, doesn’t make any sense at all.

3. Wreck havoc vs. Wreak havoc

You don’t want to wreak havoc during conversations, do you? Then stop writing the expression wreck havoc. As wreck means “to cause destruction,” to wreck havoc would mean to destroy havoc, which is the exact opposite of the actual meaning of the idiom. Thus, the correct expression to use is wreak havoc, which means to spread chaos, anarchy, and destruction. Don’t be confused by the one-letter difference in spelling!

4. On accident vs. By accident

The phrase on accident may sound correct to almost anyone as it seems to apply the same principle as the phrase on purpose, but lo and behold, using on accident is a big no-no. Indeed, you can do something on purpose, but do you think you can do something on accident? I bet you can’t. The correct preposition that goes with accident is by, not on. If something happens by accident, it means it’s unplanned or unintentional.

5. I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less

Okay. I care a great deal about this one. Saying I couldn’t care less means you don’t care at all, right? Thus, if you’d like to express complete apathy toward a topic or a situation, it’s wrong to say I could care less as it would mean you still have a bit of care left to give.

6. Peaked your interest vs. Piqued your interest

It’s totally understandable how tempting it is to use the word peak when expressing that something has caught your interest. After all, it seems logical to say your interest was taken to the highest level possible. However, the idiom didn’t intend to mean that way. The correct word to use is pique as it means “to arouse.” Thus, saying something piqued your interest would mean your interest has been awakened.

7. I made a complete 360-degree change in my life vs. I made a complete 180-degree change in my life

Ha! This is my favorite on this list. Most people say they’ve made a complete 360-degree change in their life to imply that they’ve changed from the way they used to be. However, if you take some time analyzing it, going 360 degrees is like making a pirouette—it would just bring you back to the exact spot where you started, which would mean you didn’t change at all. A 180-degree change would mean you’ve completely whirled away from the person you used to be and you’ve become its opposite, which is what most people are trying to say.

There you go! Whether you just stumbled upon this article by accident, I hope it piqued your interest. Continuously wreaking havoc upon the English language and saying we couldn’t care less about our own ignorance is not fun at all. It’s about time we stop using phrases and expressions incorrectly and start doing well with our grammar. Let’s make a complete 180-degree change in how we use language. After all, language is power, and our use of words can leave a lasting impression on the people with whom we interact. Thus, it’s important to use language appropriately, clearly, and effectively, regardless of the situation.