Discussions of English pet peeves provide an entertaining forum for the expression of ire. In fact, if a “pet” is something we cherish, and a “peeve” is something that annoys us, “pet peeves” are what we love to hate. Misusing language is among the fastest and most potent ways to ruin a good story. If your message has logical or structural flaws, listeners become distracted. Correct use of language renders the medium invisible so the message can be experienced. Correct use of language alerts readers and listeners that you are a polished storyteller who takes them and yourself seriously.
Here’s a collection of common English solecisms—guaranteed not to literally blow your mind:
English Pet Peeves: Logic Problems
“I could care less.” – If you’re expressing disinterest, you couldn’t care less.
Every time I hear Paul McCartney sing, “But if this ever-changing world in which we live in…” I cringe. Correct usage is “… in which we live.”
“The reason why this happened is because…” – use either “why” or “because,” but not both.
The reason this happened is because …
The reason why this happened is …
To be picky, we can do away with “The reason” if we precede the cause with “because.”
This happened because …
“Where’s it at?” – It’s at over there.
“Comprising of” – should be “comprising” or “comprised of.”
English Pet Peeves: Acronyms and Repetition
Why repeat the word that the last letter stands for (ISBN, VIN, ATM)?
Shouldn’t we get ISB numbers for our books?
Why don’t our cars have VI Numbers?
Why don’t we get cash from an AT Machine?
English Pet Peeves: Redundancies
Plan ahead, plan for the future – Can you plan behind?
Hot water heater – Why would you heat it if it’s already hot?
Past history – As opposed to future history?
A very unique experience – Are there degrees of uniqueness?
Final conclusion – conclusions are assumed to be final unless you specify they’re preliminary
Pre-recorded – You can only record it once.
Pre-planned – Is this the time before the planning?
Reply back or respond back – “Back” is assumed.
First-ever – If it’s first, “ever” is implied.
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Contradictions
Same difference – Please choose one.
Free Gift – Really? I usually pay for gifts.
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Imaginary Words
The seminar orientated me to my new job responsibilities. (oriented)
We’ll conversate after the meeting. (converse)
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Confusion and Abuse
Alright vs. All right–“alright” is not an actual word.
“You’ve got two choices.” – usually means someone has one choice from two options.
“… on either side” – usually means on both sides
“It literally blew my mind” – usually means figuratively. Your head did not explode.
Further vs. farther – farther refers to physical distance; further refers to figurative distance: “Is it more than a mile farther down the road?” “Yes, would you like further directions?”
lie vs. lay – To “lay down” means to spread baby duck feathers across a surface.
lose vs. loose – If your button is loose, you’ll lose it when it falls off.
everyday vs. every day – Summer rains are an everyday occurrence; they happen every day.
good vs. well – “good” describes character or desirability. “Well” describes status.
fewer vs. less – Use “fewer” with countable objects. Use “less” to refer to matters of degree or status: After the delivery, having one less package meant one fewer to deliver.
advise vs. inform – to “advise” is to suggest. To “inform” is to present with factual information.
goes vs. says – “goes” is outright slang—not an acceptable substitute for “says.”
loath vs. loathe – “Loath” is an adjective meaning hesitant or unwilling. “Loathe” is a verb meaning to dislike.
discrete vs. discreet – “Discrete” means different or unique. “Discreet” means hidden or respectful of privacy.
moot vs. mute – The point was moot and not worth pursuing so Bill stayed mute on the matter.
incidences instead of incidents
ensure vs. insure – To “insure” means to purchase insurance. To “ensure” means to make sure: He insured his valuables to ensure their safety.
Irregardless – “regardless” with a skin tab
nuclear vs. nucular – “Nucular” is a mispronunciation of “nuclear.”
alot vs. a lot – “Alot” is incorrect; use two words to suggest “a lot full of items.”
.50 cents = half a penny
peaked vs. piqued – “Piqued” means to catch attention. “The coin piqued his interest but in a few moments, his curiosity peaked and then he moved on.
data vs. datum – data is a plural noun, often used incorrectly as a singular noun.
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Weak Substitutions
doable vs. feasible – “doable” is an improvised “verb + able” word
use vs. utilize – “utilize” is pedantic and pseudosophisticated
momentarily – means for a very short time. When the pilot says, “We’ll be in the air momentarily,” he’s implying that you’ll only be off the ground for a moment.
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Grammar
waiting on vs. waiting for – The attendant waited on the customers while they waited for their luggage to arrive.
should of vs. should have– “have” is correct
different from vs. different than – “different from” is technically correct: The red ball is different from the blue ones. Use “different than” when making a comparison: Today, things are different than they were in 1980.
“One in ten people are …” – the subject (One) is singular, so use “is.”
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Hollow Clichés and Crutches
“To be honest with you…” – can’t we assume you’re being honest?
“The fact of the matter is…” – an empty crutch phrase
“untimely death” – who schedules their death? These words cling together to form a tired cliché.
“back in the day” – does this mean breakfast?
ENGLISH PET PEEVES: Evolving Language
impact vs. affect – “impact” is not a verb, though its use as one is so widespread that it will probably become one.
who vs. whom – “whom” is fading from language to a point where many grammarians are discarding it like “thee” and “thou.” You’ll find a list of them in Who’s Whom? For Editors.
functionality vs. function – lots of common crossover here. Theoretically, a program with more functions has greater functionality.
What are your favorite English pet peeves? Or is it contradictory to have a “favorite” pet peeve?