Happy Birthday, Noah Webster!
In 1828, at the age of 70, Noah Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language. He hoped to help children in overcrowded schools better articulate themselves and standardize American speech. Born on October 16, 1758, Webster is now known as the Father of the American Dictionary. 255 years later, Webster’s birthday is celebrated by thousands on “Dictionary Day.”*
It’s with great pleasure that we dedicate this edition of the Top Misused Words to Webster and to all who are passionate about language.
Assume vs. Presume
assume – to suppose to be the case, without proof; to take or begin to have (power or responsibility).
Incorrect: I’m not 100% sure, but I would presume a “Toad in the Hole” is an amphibian in the ground.
Correct: I’m not 100% sure, but I would assume a “Toad in the Hole” is an amphibian in the ground.
presume – to suppose something is the case on the basis of probability; to be audacious enough to do something.
Incorrect: Judging from the recipe – a dish of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter – I would assume “Toad in the Hole” is delicious!
Correct: Judging from the recipe – a dish of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter – I would presume “Toad in the Hole” is delicious!
Decimate vs. Devastate
decimate – kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of (original meaning limited to kill one person in ten).
Incorrect: Julius Caesar threatened to devastate the 9th Legion during the war against Pompey.
Correct: Julius Caesar threatened to decimate the 9th Legion during the war against Pompey.
devastate – destroy or ruin (something).
Incorrect: The city was decimated by a huge earthquake.
Correct: The city was devastated by a huge earthquake.
Ensure vs. Insure
ensure – make certain that (something) shall occur or be the case.
Incorrect: Encourage passengers to wear seatbelts to insure their safety.
Correct: Encourage passengers to wear seatbelts to ensure their safety.
insure – arrange for compensation in the event of damage to or loss of (property), or injury to or the death of (someone), in exchange for regular advance payments.
Incorrect: If you don’t live in an earthquake zone, should you really ensure your home with an earthquake policy?
Correct: If you don’t live in an earthquake zone, should you really insure your home with an earthquake policy?
Farther vs. Further
farther – used as comparative of far; more distant in space than another item of the same kind.
Incorrect: On the further side of the mountain, you’ll find treasure.
Correct: On the farther side of the mountain, you’ll find treasure.
further – to a greater degree or extent; help the progress or development of (something); promote.
Incorrect: She had depended on articles to farther her exposure as an Expert Author.
Correct: She had depended on articles to further her exposure as an Expert Author.
Literally vs. Figuratively
literally – in a literal manner or sense; exactly.
Incorrect: I can’t believe you figuratively ate an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting!
Correct: I can’t believe you literally ate an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting!
figuratively – in a figurative sense; metaphorical.
Incorrect: The Haunted House was so scary: I literally died of fright!
Correct: The Haunted House was so scary: I figuratively died of fright!
Proofread. Maintain your credibility. Avoid confusion. Gain readers. It’s that easy! 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!
For more posts like this, check out the Top Misused Words category!
* This post was updated on October 16, 2013 at 4:15 p.m. CST.