English Pet Peeves for Storytellers


English Pet Peeves

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.




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?


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Dave Bricker: StorySailing®