15 Words And Phrases You Shouldn't Use If You Want To Sound Smart

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Bonnie Marcus M.Ed, CEC10
June 20, 2024 at 4:37AM UTC
The way we communicate with others reveals a lot about us, and in a work setting, it’s important to be mindful of our choice of words and phrases to ensure we are perceived as being smart. After all, we work really hard. Who wants to throw all that away by sounding dumb?
Here are some words and phrases you should take care to use properly.
1. I could care less. I know there are times when you really don’t care, but the correct use is I couldn’t care less.
2. I should of. Regardless of the fact that we often “should” all over ourselves for unnecessary reasons, the proper use of this phrase is I should have.
3. When we are seeking inner peace, we should use the phrase peace of mind. If we say piece of mind, we are letting someone know that we strongly disagree with them.
4. You may accept someone’s invitation, except when you have a conflict.
5. Irregardless is not a word! It’s regardless.
6. Farther refers to physical distance, and further is used to describe the extent of an action or situation. “I can’t drive much farther,” but “There is nothing further to say about that.” I often catch myself using further in both situations.
7. A whole nother way of saying this phrase correctly is whole other way or another way.
8. Sneak peak is not about looking at a mountain peaks. It means sneaking a quick look, and sneak peek is the correct phrase to use.
9. Toward, afterward, and anyway do not have an ‘s’ at the end. I think so many of us add the ‘s’ that this is a habit that’s hard to break.
10. I thought I was a shoo-in for that position, not shoe-in. (I’ve made this mistake numerous times!)
11. For all intensive purposes is really for all intents and purposes.
12. Wet your appetite should be whet your appetite. Whet means to stimulate.
13. Principal and principle. So many people mix these two words up. Principal is a person who is in leadership or is used to describe the importance of something. Principle refers to a standard, rule, or guiding belief.
14. Affect and effect. It might make you feel better to know that most people mix these two words up. The best way to distinguish the two is to remember affect as a verb and effect as a noun.
15. Lay and Lie. OK. Admit it. How many times have you said you are going to lay down and take a nap? You should use lie instead which is defined as, “to be, to stay or to assume rest in a horizontal position,” so the subject is the one doing the lying—I lie down to sleep. But lay means to put or set something down, so if the subject is acting on an object, it’s “lay.” For example, I lay down the book. Got it?
Some of these words and phrases are so commonly misused that it’s challenging to catch them ourselves, especially when we speak. In written form, it’s easier to see the grammatical errors so be careful with content for a presentation or report or on your website where your audience is much larger.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

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