Top Misused Words Part VII

Would You Back up the Backup?

In this edition of the Top Misused Words series, we are exploring the difference a space can make in changing a word’s usage and even its meaning.

When in doubt, consider whether it’s a noun or a verb. You will find nouns typically occur without a space and verbs will typically maintain a space. However, as with everything in the English language, there are always exceptions.

Without further ado, keep an eye out for these commonly misused words in your article writing!

Setup vs. Set Up

setup – Noun or adjective; the way in which something is organized, planned, or arranged.

Incorrect: The dog threw its cake-covered paws into the air: “It was a set up!”
Correct: The dog threw its cake-covered paws into the air: “It was a setup!”

set up – Verb; to place, raise, assemble, or put forward.

Incorrect: The cat sniggered as it setup the trap.
Correct: The cat sniggered as it set up the trap.

Breakup vs. Break Up

breakup – Noun; an end to a relationship or a division of a country or organization into smaller units.

Incorrect: Is it the End? How to Deal With a Break Up
Correct: Is it the End? How to Deal With a Breakup

break up – Verb; to disperse or cause to separate.

Incorrect: The asteroid is expected to breakup in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Correct: The asteroid is expected to break up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Overtime vs. Over Time

overtime – Noun or adverb; time in addition to what’s normal.

Incorrect: In the jaw-dropping match, the Penguins beat the Sea Lions 2-1 in over time.
Correct: In the jaw-dropping match, the Penguins beat the Sea Lions 2-1 in overtime.

over time – Preposition; the passage or duration of time.

Incorrect: Quality kazoo technique requires regular practice overtime.
Correct: Quality kazoo technique requires regular practice over time.

Backup vs. Back Up

backup – Noun; help or support. A person or thing that can be called on if necessary.

Incorrect: I need my back up! Where’s my USB drive?
Correct: I need my backup! Where’s my USB drive?

back up – Verb; to help or support. Adverb; to move in the opposite direction from which you’re facing or traveling.

Incorrect: I had to backup my car so the police officer could backup her partner.
Correct: I had to back up my car so the police officer could back up her partner.

Checkout vs. Check Out

checkout – Noun; a point at which goods are paid for in a store or the latest time for vacating a room in a hotel.

Incorrect: Sebastian patiently stood at the grocery check out.
Correct: Sebastian patiently stood at the grocery checkout.

check out – Verb; to pay for goods and depart or to investigate and prove to be in order.

Incorrect: The owners decided to checkout the dog’s case before punishing him for eating the cake.
Correct: The owners decided to check out the dog’s case before punishing him for eating the cake.

Maintain your credibility with your audience by proofreading your articles for these misused words and making any necessary revisions. Do you have any misused words you’d like to see added to the Top Misused Words series? Share them in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you!

Check out Top Misused Words Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI for more!


Maddy writes:

Really difficult English mistakes. I am using ginger for chrome to point out spelling and grammar mistakes but it can’t capture my mistakes in depth. Your tutorials are really useful for me and I visit this blog daily to improve my English skills. Thank you so much for this free service.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 9:49 AM


We’re happy to help Maddy. Keep up the great work!



Myhox writes:

It is common Phenomenon that, most of the article writer leave some mistake to their artilce. He or she should learn to improve the common mistake
thank you for sharing this great information.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 10:31 AM


Maddy writes:

You are right Hox, but the mistakes stated above are really difficult to remember and I think that it’ll take a long time to learn these grammar and spelling errors. I am trying my level best to improve my English skills.


Ricky writes:

Thank you.

English is not my first language but, after reading it a few times, I think I got it figured out…

as in “setup” is something and “set up” is an action.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 10:48 AM


Edmund Sykes writes:

I suppose there are many:

The judge thought his argument inessential to the case.

In essential facts, the judge required proof beyond reasonable doubt.

A little more obtuse.

Although the driver had a stroke at the controls, the deadmans handle stopped the train safely.

The dead man’s hand clutched at the knife wound which had killed him.

But maybe you can help us Penny with Nonessential, Non-essential and Non essential all of which seen to crop up.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 11:01 AM


Michael writes:

I have one of the most the heavily-misused words in history: Irregardless.
Regardless, Irrespective, and Irregardless.
Regardless, Irrespective – no consideration, ignoring something
Irregardless – an amalgamation of “regardless” and “irrespective”
Correct: He continued to act immature regardless of the effect on his job.
Correct: She continued to talk, irrespective of his feelings.
Incorrect: We will have a test on Friday irregardless of whether I will be here or not.

I actually had a PhD in Computer Science lecture using this word!

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM


Diego Fortuna writes:

‘irregardless’ is an interesting one.


in general, when to use a hyphen to connect a phrase or ‘saying’.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 11:11 AM


Barry Wilkinson writes:

Edmund gave this example
“Although the driver had a stroke at the controls, the deadmans handle stopped the train safely”.

I’m not questioning his example but something else. Shouldn’t Edmund’s phrase, even in this context, have the word “deadmans” as “deadman’s”?

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 12:06 PM


Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Barry. It is used both ways but as there is not, I think, such a thing as a deadman handle, I am inclined to treat deadmans as a single word which doesn’t need the apostrophe.


Barry Wilkinson writes:

Valid point Edmund. Perhaps the important thing is to be consistent in your writing rather than try for an impossible degree of acceptability.


Vijay Khosla writes:

Loved reading these most commonly used words.


Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 1:55 PM


Joe writes:

One which I see all the time, and which would have fit nicely into this post, is the misuse of ‘workout’ and ‘work out’.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 2:07 PM


Mark writes:

That’s interesting, because I was brought up that words like “back up” and “break up” and “set up”, when used as nouns, should be hyphenated.

When did this change?

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 3:54 PM


davidinnotts writes:

It’s never been consistent, Mark. For most of the 20th century, new words, combinations and coinages tended to progress through using quotes (“just an idea from little me!”) to hyphens to either a single word or back to two words. So we still find all this spectrum in use differently in different places (and in different Press style books). Probably best to consult several online (on line? / on-line?) dictionaries to get the latest suggestions of current use.


Robin writes:

When usage of the word co-operating became cooperating, the first time I saw it I had a mental blank about what it meant. Now I’m accustomed to it.

Simplicity is the aim nowadays with much of our writing being done in emails, chat sessions etc. Thus, if punctuation is not needed, don’t use it.

As David suggests, change is incremental across the globe so there will always be differences in how we write and the punctuation we use. Isn’t it fun?


davidinnotts writes:

Mmm. I’ve just met ‘to day’ in a respected 1930s book. I generally used ‘to-day’ until about a decade ago; now it’s comfortable to stay with ‘today’.


Robin writes:

Many words are being joined David eg, web site, work place and others that are frequently joined, probably by accident rather than by design.

Although it often goes against the grain, we have to keep up with trends or be left behind as fossils.


davidinnotts writes:

True, Robin. And yet it’s a good thing. Without this happening, we’d still be speaking Anglo-Saxon English, with its amazingly complex and formal structure, and writing it in Runic or Ogham!


Valerie writes:

How about, “I need to back up my hard drive,”? It’s a backup when it’s done…

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 4:12 PM


Robin writes:

Good one Valerie, or you could say, “I’m going to do a backup of my hard drive”. Changing from verb to noun opens up another opportunity.


davidinnotts writes:

In all of the examples people have come up with so far, you can work out (grin!) which to use where from the pause that’s obvious when you slowly speak the two words rather than the joined single word. So ‘work out’ is spoken differently than ‘workout’ by most people, when they’re taking care in speech. That might help if you’re unsure.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 4:24 PM


Robin writes:

The increasing number of people who speak English as another language is adding to grammar and syntax errors … at least in Australia.

Like a winter cold, English grammar and expression challenges tend to come and go. At present many people, even those in the media who should know better, use terms like “amount” for nouns that are countable. They should use “number”. Then there is the common problem with group singularity and associated plural use eg, “The Red Rooster team have” instead of the singular “has”.

It can be argued that as the aim of language is to convey meaning, if the meaning is conveyed, it doesn’t matter about the detail. For those of us who love our language that, that is anathema.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 4:27 PM


Edmund Sykes writes:

And the one that really annoys me. I want to make less errors (rather than fewer errors).


Robin writes:



davidinnotts writes:

Spot on, Robin! That’s why we, as writers, need to keep up-to-date (uptodate? No!) but at the same time, try not to lose the nuances of expression which good grammar is there for, that a large proportion of our readers will pick up – especially if we do it wrongly!

If we write for a wide readership, we are bound to find that a lot of our readers misinterpret or are puzzled by some expressions (like winter cold – what’s that?) while technical nuances generally don’t confuse: amount/number is never ambiguous. So we simply need to keep improving our grammatical skills, the write for clarity, taking everything into account.

That’s why this blog series – and the copious replies – is so useful. Ah! I slipped again. ‘Copious’ is a volume, not a count adjective. As Bryson says: ‘make it ‘numerous’.


Edmund Sykes writes:

Winter cold, yes David, I think that this phrase could be interpreted in two ways.

For some reason, probably because of the severity of the symptoms or the length of their duration, the influenza-like cold suffered during the winter months is considered worse than that milder form which is termed a summer cold.

I can also imagine that winter cold would be used to describe temperatures so low that they would be unusual at other times of the year as in “This spring the warm weather did not arrive until May and the winter cold persisted right through the month of April.”

The latter happened to be true in Spain this year and we went from blazing log fires to T-shirts in a couple of days. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a temperature related phrase that would involve summer cold.


davidinnotts writes:

Ah, Edmund. I did know my self, but it would be puzzling for most people in a tropical or sub-tropical place, or say, a monsoon country, where the Temperate seasons are foreign oddities. I reckon myself that winter colds are considered bad because of the huge temperature change moving from heated areas to outdoors affecting bodily reactions.

By the way (not to do with seasons), a ‘cold’ is very different from ”flu’, and is induced by a completely different class of viruses, I think. A cold is a respiratory infection almost exclusively, whereas ‘flu viruses are systemic – which is why they’re generally more debilitating and dangerous. I don’t ever get ‘flu, but I catch mild colds quite often.


Deena Bogan writes:

This item might belong somewhere else but I’m putting it here because I haven’t seen another place yet. My issue has to do with using or not using apostrophe “s”. As in:

1950s v. 1950’s
DVDs v. DVD’s

I was taught that the latter signifies ownership – his, hers, theirs, its, etc. Otherwise it’s the plural version of the noun it is attached to. Like “the 1950s” and “DVDs”.

What say you?

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 5:30 PM


davidinnotts writes:

Ah, Deena. One of the things I try to promote.

Yes, the accepted usage is apostrophe-s. In other words, ‘belonging to, or a part of, the decade of the nineteen-sixties’ (which, by the way, is supposed to include 1970 but not 1060, but that’s not the common usage).

HOWEVER, it can also be taken to mean the the expression ‘1960’s’ is a contraction of the spelt-out usage ‘nineteen-sixties’. Used this way, the apostrophe is wrong, because it isn’t actually a contraction but a numeric replacement. So it’s becomong commonplace to omit the apostrophe, and it’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade or more.

While we’re on the topic of numeric replacements, here’s a bit more. Don’t use a figure on normal writing for small numbers. Spell it out: one, two, and so on. This style usually continues to twelve; in English, things get clumsy after that and we revert to figures. It’s rare in English writing (as opposed to mathematical or arithmetic-dense work) to use written-out figures except for very small numbers, and it’s considered clumsy to use figures for these. So we might say, “Nine delegates came to the meeting; as there need to be 16 for a quorum, they had to wait for another seven before proceedings could begin.”


Edmund Sykes writes:

I was taught, David, to use figures after ten. I think going all the way to 12 rather smacks of a duodecimal system that surely anyone born in the UK after 1971 will find very strange.

Deena, you asked about DVDs. DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disk and therefore the plural is DVDs. However, the possessive uses the apostrophe as in “The DVD’s title is written on its case”.


davidinnotts writes:

Yes, Edmund, so was I. But a different Grammar School English teacher whom I much respected taught differently, explaining that short words were preferred when appropriate, otherwise figures; full words were only for legal documents. So (in English) 1-12 as one to twelve, and also twenty, thirty, and so on, but in figures between these. Take your pick: it’s all to do with what’s elegant and smooth to read, not some made-up rule.


Robin writes:

The standard in the Australian Style Guide and generally accepted here is to use one to nine in words and from 10 to higher numbers in numerals. There are some exceptions. The logic being I suppose is that ten is the first numeral with two numbers.

I taught business communication for many years and I always taught that whatever you decide upon when rules aren’t clear ie, there is no style guide to follow, be consistent. So whatever rule you use, use it consistently.


Lance Winslow writes:

Yes, these are all quite common errors, even made a few of them myself at times. It’s wise to pay attention and constantly review these things as part of your online article author on-going education. You need this to stay at the top of your game.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 7:18 PM


Jeremy writes:

I saw this post on the left headlines and honestly, I thought you would mention the difference between “its” and “it’s” that’s a very common mistake. But the ones you did write about are good to remember for when I write my blog posts.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 8:23 PM


Robin writes:


If you visit the Apostrophe Protection Society website here: you’ll find a comprehensive coverage.


Randall Magwood writes:

I’ve heard that “a lot” is correct instead of “alot”. Nowadays i just let Microsoft Word correct my error whenever i type the misused word “alot” lol.

Comment provided May 8, 2013 at 10:50 PM


Maddy writes:

Lol! I am also confused about alot and a lot, that’s why using different tools to correct my mistakes.


Lance Winslow writes:

I think everyone occasionally makes that mistake it happens a lot. So, you need to allot yourself some extra time to focus when using that alot.

Comment provided May 9, 2013 at 12:18 AM



Many new writers commit such makes mistakes they can’t even notice of. However, when someone brings the situation becomes embarrassing. We have been writing for over 4 years and still have been correcting my grammar. Sometimes my colleagues notice my mistakes. When I visit here at your blog I am sure I would go back with at least a few improvements daily. Thanks again. :)

Comment provided May 9, 2013 at 12:57 AM


Robin writes:

An error I noticed in US writers was use of the word “loose” as in “lose”. It was so common that I emailed an American friend of mine and asked her if “loose” meant lose (as in lost) in the US.

She replied that it didn’t. Obviously it’s either a typo or some people think that lose is spelled loose.

Comment provided May 9, 2013 at 4:15 AM


Durwood Walker writes:

Something I find problematic is how to refer to use a noun that follows a plural pronoun; Ex: I hear people say and write, ” Today, our ‘life’ is better,” vs. “Our ‘lives’ are better.”

Hope I made that clear. Can anyone relate to what I’m saying?

Comment provided May 9, 2013 at 12:22 PM


davidinnotts writes:

Yes, Durwood. I have to do a double-take on this often.

In your example, though, it’s easier – there are two meanings, so you can use singular/plural to distinguish nuances of meaning. ‘Our life is better’ is collective – we have one life together. So we’d use this when we’re talking about a group, which might be a workplace, a church, a club, the followers of a hobby or even all humanity; the point is that the ‘life’ in question is the same for all. ‘Our lives are better’ is used when we mean ‘our separate and maybe different lives’.

The mistake is more common when the sentence (and maybe also a linked one previously) uses both singular and plural and you have to work out whether you’re referring to
a) the singular pronoun (=singular),
b) the plural (=plural),
c) several singulars and maybe a plural collectively (=plural), or
d) a collective plural which could be a singular entity (=singular).

Just to put in another spanner, some collective nouns are singular in particular places and plural elsewhere. For example, in the UK, ‘staff’, used for a group of people working for one organization, is pluralized (ie, the staff ARE a group of individuals), whereas in the USA it’s singular (ie, the staff IS a collective, singular entity.) Confused? So are we all!


Durwood Walker writes:

Thanks David,
I get it now, really. It makes sense.

Comment provided May 9, 2013 at 9:53 PM



Keep publishing this series for ever wth newer contents. Your article is like salt adding taste to our food.

Comment provided May 10, 2013 at 12:43 AM


Robin writes:

The term “number” when used creates some challenges. Many people write “A number of people are worried about tax hikes” Both A and Number are singular. Thus, it should be “A number of people IS worried about tax hikes”, but it sounds clumsy.

You could say, “Numbers of people are worried ….” but there is the word numerous which means almost the same thing. So, “Numerous people are worried ….”.

Often it’s sensible to escape from the dilemma by using a different term eg, “Many people are ….” or “Voters are worried ….”

It’s good fun trying to find solutions to challenges when dealing with a language that is constantly evolving.

Comment provided May 10, 2013 at 4:10 AM


Lance Winslow writes:

I am really upset, you see, I forgot to click off the botton on to be notified on future comments on this blog post. I get an email everytime someone posts something. Plus, a notification on my Author’s secured page, meaning I have to go many levels deep to get to what I really need to read. I wish people would stop posting comments, because it is filling up my email box unnecessarily with endless stuff I can read in any grammar book I buy at a garage sale for $.25 – I sometimes wonder if writers want to here themselves talk so much that they go on and on about this stuff which does little to bring information to the world. Go write something people!

Comment provided May 10, 2013 at 4:18 PM


Gracious Store writes:

Thanks for explaining the difference between these words, I use them but never give a thought as whether I use them as nouns or verbs

Comment provided May 10, 2013 at 6:23 PM


Sanju kmr writes:

Really nice this article…Thanks for sharing i am always looking this type of article…keep sharing

Comment provided June 7, 2013 at 2:11 AM


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