5 Words You Probably Misspell

It’s true: i’m a bit of a grammar nazi. i’m not, like, a high-ranking grammar nazi or anything. i’m no Grammar Goebbels. i’m more like a Hitler Youth. Of grammar.

So while the Anti-Defamation League drafts a strongly-worded email, let me list a few words that people tend to misspell or misuse, for the greater benefit of Beloved Internet.

1. Apropos

i’m not going to call you out too loudly if you fumble this one. It’s French, and it’s got that silent “s” on the end. But the problem with apropos, which means “fitting” or “appropriate”, is that it’s only used in English in a snooty context. People use it when they think they sound smart. “Apropos of nothing”, you say, looking down your nose at someone’s non sequitur.

So when you misspell something in that situation, you sound like the opposite of smart: you sound like an a-hole.

2. Per se

Again, this one’s not English – it’s Latin. But like apropos, it’s often said with verbal italics by someone who thinks he’s clever. When you try to sound clever on a blog, and you write “per say”, you don’t come off like a complete a-hole per se …

3. Biased

This is one of those words like “of” (could of [WRONG] vs. could have [RIGHT]), where because of people’s lazy diction, it gets misspelled.

WRONG You don’t like cheese? You’re bias.
RIGHT You have a bias against cheese. You’re biased.

3. Renege

This one surprises me every time i see it spelled. To renege is to go back on a bid or a promise. That unnecessary “e” messes me up … looks like you should say it “re-NEEJ”, but as you’re aware from college euchre tournaments, the word actually rhymes with “egg”. Indeed, when you are a person who reneges, you are a reneger (not a renegger). Bizarre.

4. Yeah/ya/yea/yay

i’ve been banging this drum for a long time.

Yeah: a lazy or casual way to say “yes”. Matches the “a” sound in “man”. Speaking of men, Kool-Aid Man, after breaking down the wall and terrifying all the children, exclaims “oh YEAH.”

Yea: Rhymes with “hay”. Opposite of “nay”. Used in voting.

Yay: Rhymes with “hooray”, and used in similar circumstances.

Ya: Equivalent to “ja” in some European languages. Rhymes with “raw”. NOT to be used interchangeably with “yeah”. i say nay to that plan.

Kool-Aid Man

5. Recuperate

i always thought this was spelled “reCOUPerate”. To boot, i thought “recoup” was an abbreviation of recuperate. In fact, they’re two completely different words. Who knew? To recuperate is to regain strength or lost finances, and to recoup is to do the same thing … or to regain an equivalent amount to what was lost. Even though they sound similar and have similar meanings, the two have different etymological roots.

i’d love to add to this list. What do you think should be on it?

31 thoughts on “5 Words You Probably Misspell

  1. Joseph Burchett

    I am so bad at this sort…. Knowing when to use “too” and a bunch of other really simple words always throws me off! Sometimes I mess up when to use “there” or “their”, oi, would you happen to know any good sites for re-learning grammar and all that good stuff?

    1. Ryan

      Joseph – here’s one i wrote a while back about “everyday” vs. “every day”:


      Here’s a good page that lists a few i didn’t even know about (ie bring vs. take):


      Another really common one is including yourself in a sentence. Most people know to put themselves at the end of a list of other people – ie “Julie, Tommy and I had lunch.” But they really screw it up when it comes to choosing “i” vs “me”:

      “The bus ran into Julie, Tommy and i.”

      That’s actually incorrect. The trick is to take the other people out of the list and ask yourself whether you make any sense:

      “The bus ran into i.”

      Doesn’t make sense. You should use “me”. So to correct it, you should say “The bus ran into Julie, Tommy and me.” But most people suspect that “me” is incorrect, so they don’t say it that way.

      Along the same lines is “myself”. People use this one really idiotically and, like the examples i provided above, they use it because they think they sound educated or elegant. They’ll say:

      “The bus ran into myself.”

      That’s just … just bad. Sorry. Bad. You fail at speaking. You’re not admitted into the speaking club.

      – Ryan

  2. Andy Smith

    Im the Allies of grammer and spelling. Your goin down Nazi. Their will be heck to pay, oh ya!

  3. Andy Smith

    As for my real comment:
    I am infuriated at the loose use of Login, Log in, Sign in, Logout, Log out, etc.

    1. Ryan

      Andy – i’ve given up on that one. i’ve always thought that “login” is a noun that describes your account profile and credentials, while “log” as in “log in” and “log out” is a verb describing what you do to access that account. By that logic, “logout” is a non-thing.

  4. Andy Smith

    The way I understand it is, you can perform a login to log into an account. By my logic, you could then perform a logout to log out of an account. Though, I could be horribly misinformed… damned Ontario education system.

  5. Taz Hasni

    I’ve seen in a number of places where people mix up the words “Looser” and “Loser”. Safe to say, anyone admitting to being a “Looser” also admits to bad grammar.

    “The Oatmeal” also had a funny piece on regularly misspelled words; check it out: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/misspelling

    1. Ryan

      Taz – Funny that The Oatmeal author also calls people who misspell certain words an “a-hole”. i had a friend who spelled horribly, and he had horrible grammar, and i’d get on his case about it (but GENTLY … i’d offer to proofread his papers, etc). He’d always say “it’s what you say, not the way you say it!” Quite the opposite, i coasted through university with my hands behind my head because i was able to church up my vapid theses with flowery talk. We’re a culture of fabulous appearances, not fabulous ideas.

  6. tfernando

    Doesn’t the euro ‘Ya/Ja’ get used in the same situations as the north american ‘Yeah’? That’s how it had appeared to me, based on how the 1st gen German/Slovak/Albanian immigrants whom I know speak, so I never saw a problem with that. Is it actually connoting a more formal ‘yes’?

  7. Andreas Renberg

    And of course, there are those darned apostrophes… Its, it’s or it is?

    And what of items that already end in “s”, like Lars? You have a book that was written by Lars – Lars’s book. What if there are several people named Lars? It’s several Larses? What if you have a book written by those several people named Lars – would that be “The Larses’s Books?”

    I give up… My reasoning is, as long as you get the point of what I am trying to say, great. 99% of readers won’t know the correct grammar rules anyway. ;)

    1. Ryan

      Andreas – That Lars question is driving me nuts! What’s the answer? (i suspect that you can’t “legally” pluralize Lars like you’re trying to do. In fact, real grammar nazis know that you can’t even use an apostrophe for possession when you’re talking about an inanimate object. So it’s not proper to say “the table’s leg” or “the house’s front door”, the rationale being that inanimate objects cannot own things. i have no idea how that rule plays out when you’re talking about personified inanimate objects, a la the supporting cast of Beauty and the Beast.)

  8. Michael

    Dang, I wrote “yay or nay” just today. I’ve seen “everyday” get mixed up with “every day” a lot recently. In fact I saw “everyweek” on a poster.

    By the way, I’m curious what effect that first paragraph of yours will have on your SEO.

    1. Ryan

      Jeremy – those are really good ones. And i threw this one up on Twitter a short time ago: “weary”, as in “i’m a little weary of that steel jaw trap on the nursery floor.” People take “wary” and “leery”, which mean the same thing, and combine it into “weary”, which means something completely different.

    1. Ryan

      Rasmus – i purposely, consciously don’t capitalize my i’s. It goes back to high school, when i was (rightly) accused of being an egomaniac. To prove that i wasn’t full of myself, i lower-cased all my i’s. Of course, calling attention to myself by doing that is just another form of egotistical grandstanding, but the habit stuck. If i ever email you, you’ll see my i’s capitalized, because Outlook’s spellchecker insists on it.

    1. Ryan

      MJW – i don’t think i’ve seen that yet, but now that i’m aware of it, it fills me with grammar-rage.

      Though truth be told, i don’t know when to use i.e. and when to use e.g. or ex.

  9. Michael

    Not sure about e.g. vs. ex. (and f.x.), but I remember it as i.e. == “that is” and e.g. == “for example.” So i.e. clarifies while e.g. gives a specific instance.

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  11. R Eebot

    Thank you for this diversion, people from seven years ago! My colloquial version of “yes” is “ya” as in the German “ja”, pronounced with no “h” at the end as in “yahh”

    Need help on punctuation with quotation marks, though…


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