6 Common English Vocabulary Errors and How to Avoid Them

If you are not a native English speaker, chances are that you might be learning the language the wrong way. If you think your boss or best buddy is someone you can look up to for vocabulary inspiration, just don’t! Always follow definitive sources to improve your English grammar and vocabulary. So let’s see if you are aware of these common English vocabulary errors.

Improve vs. Improvise

Wrong: I want to improvise my communication skills.

Right: I want to improve my communication skills.

Explanation: The meaning of the verb “improvise” is performing a task without any prior preparation. The noun is “improvisation”. Both Improve and improvise may sound acoustically similar, but they are in no way related to each other. Grammatically speaking, improvement is the noun form of the verb “improve” while improvisation is the noun form of the verb “improvise”. Look at the following examples:

Example#1: Sachin Tendulkar has a great deal of improvisation skills. (This means that he has the ability to accelerate the run rate without taking much time to settle down.)

Example#2: Sonu Nigam’s ability to improvise onstage is second to none. (This means Sonu Nigam has the ability to sing any song without prior practice or rehearsal)

Reference: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060811193647AAHqAHT

Historic vs. Historical

Wrong: This is a historical victory for the Indian cricket team.

Right: This is a historic victory for the Indian cricket team.

Explanation:  Grammatically speaking, both historic and historical are adjectives; however, they are not related to each other. Historical means something pertaining to the history and past. Historic means remarkable or extraordinary.

Reference: http://grammar.about.com/od/alightersideofwriting/a/historicgloss.htm

Reputed vs. Reputable

Wrong: TCS is a reputed software company in India.

Right: TCS is a reputable software company in India.

Explanation: Both reputable and reputed are used to define the reputation of an organization. However, when you say TCS is a reputed organization, it essentially means you’re not very sure of its reputation. On the other hand, when you say TCS is a reputable organization, it means there’s not an iota of doubt that TCS is a company of national repute.

However, the following example is acceptable:

Example: The company hired her because of her reputed skills as a content writer. (The company is fairly sure of her skills in content writing)

Reference: http://www.hindu.com/edu/2008/09/23/stories/2008092350141503.htm

Reply vs. Revert

Wrong: I will revert to your email later.

Right: I will reply to your email later.

Explanation: The most commonplace where the abuse of “revert” is rampant is workplace. In professional communications, especially in India, professionals have a penchant for “revert” when all they want to mean is “reply”. Why do they do so? To show off their vocabulary skills, maybe. Ironically, they end up hurting their own image in the process.

Grammatically speaking, “revert” means restoring something to its original state. So when you say “I’ll revert”, you mean you will go back your previous state. I have no clue what you mean when you say that, but for sure, you don’t mean to go back to your original state. So what’s the correct usage of the word “revert”?

Correct Usage: After spending three months in the alcohol rehab, my brother reverted to his drinking habits again. (This means my brother returned to his old habits of drinking)

In this context, it is highly pointless to say “I’ll revert to your email later”. Technically, nobody can actually revert to an email. 😛

NB: Some people often go overboard and say “I’ll revert “back” to your email later”. OMG, for the love of God, please read this post!

Reference: http://another.pieceofsky.org/2008/02/revert-vs-reply/

Pressure vs. Pressurize

Wrong: Stop pressurizing me!

Right: Stop pressuring me! (A line from the popular track Scream by Michael Jackson)

Explanation: According to freedictionary.com, the word “pressurize” means “to increase the pressure in (an enclosure, such as an aircraft cabin) in order to maintain approximately atmospheric pressure when the external pressure is low”.

For example: The captain will pressurize the cabin for the passengers’ comfort. (The captain will increase the pressure in the cabin to maintain the atmospheric pressure).

If you’ve ever travelled in an airplane or are a frequent flyer, you know what I mean.

However, pressurize can also be used to define the stress or strain although such use is quite informal, figurative and rare.

For example: He’s an executive who was pressurized by a heavy workload. (he’s subject to excessive stress, strain, or vexation)

Reference: http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090915145022AAXwdpG

Staff vs. Staffs

Wrong: You’re the best staff in our company.

Right: You’re the best employee on our company staff.

Grammatically speaking, staff is collective noun, meaning a group of professional in a particular organization. Like the word “department”, staff also refers to two or more things or people as a group.

Explanation: I have absolutely lost count of how often I hear this word being abused, both in writing and speech, on a daily basis. Blame it on the cultural orientation, and poor English skills of many teachers at elementary schools in India, many people have acquired a wrong impression about the word “staff”. Grammatically speaking, staff is collective noun, meaning a group of professional in a particular organization. Like the word “department”, staff also refers to two or more things or people as a group.

Therefore, you can’t afford to use the word “staff” to mean a single person when it effectively means a group.

For example: He is a reliable staff member. (NOT reliable staff)

Another Example: I would like to thank the staff of the Department of Technology for their help. (NOT staffs)

NB: As far as “staffs” is concerned, it can be used to mean a group of different departments in a company. However, such usage is quite rare. To know more about staffs, please take your time to read this. Also, you might also like to read this to understand the comprehensive usage of “staff”.

Reference: http://blog.editage.com/?q=Pluralizing-a-collective-noun-staff-vs-staffs

6 thoughts on “6 Common English Vocabulary Errors and How to Avoid Them”

  1. “There is no iota of any doubt that these tests were carried out casually” This by the person who has carried out the tests implying that due diligence was done in carrying out the tests!!
    What is the right way to say it?


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