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4 Words that Native English Speakers Get Wrong ALL the Time

Image representing a student learning about the 4 Words that Native English speakers get wrong ALL the time

Okay, okay, I know I always say that the best way to learn English is to chat to native speakers as much as you can – and that’s still true! However, it’s important to remember that people sometimes make mistakes even when they’re speaking their own language and, if you don’t learn the rules for yourself, you can sometimes end up learning bad habits.

Here are 10 words that native English speakers seem to say wrong, spell wrong, or use in the wrong way all the time… and how to make sure you don’t do the same thing.

Definitely vs Defiantly

For some reason, when English speakers try to type the word “definitely”, they often type “defiantly” instead. Look at any comment thread on Facebook, YouTube, a news site or blog and I bet you’ll find at least one person who got it wrong.

These words mean very different things, though. Definitely means that you are sure about something, or that it is absolutely, 100% true. For example, “Paris is definitely the capital of France”.

On the other hand, defiantly means that you insist on doing or saying something, even when people disapprove or try to stop you. For example, “I told the toddler to give me back the scissors, but she defiantly held it behind her back” or “The protesters waved their signs defiantly even when the police told them to move on.”

It can be quite funny to imagine your English-speaking friends doing every small thing as if they are fighting for their rights (for example “defiantly” catching the 4pm train or “defiantly” preferring Snickers to Mars Bars) but it doesn’t really make sense, so try to avoid making the same mistake!

Literally

This one drives a lot of people crazy… but not literally! When you use the word literally, it is supposed to mean that you are not exaggerating, making a joke or using a metaphor – whatever you’re saying should be taken to mean exactly what you say. For example, if you said, “I literally have a thousand junk emails in my inbox,” that should mean you really do have 1,000 junk emails in your inbox, not just “a lot”.

The problem is that many people use literally to make a sentence sound more dramatic. So, you might hear someone say “I literally have a thousand junk emails!” when really they only have 30 junk emails. Or someone might say, “I told my Mum that I  got a detention and she literally bit my head off.”

Obviously that person’s head hasn’t been bitten off, because they are using it to talk to you. What they mean is that their mother was extremely angry, and metaphorically bit their head off. This can be very confusing for people who are learning English, as the word is being used to express the opposite thing to its real meaning!

Could Have & Should Have

It’s really common to see native English speakers write the expression “could of” or “should of” when really they mean could have or should have, for example, “You could have let her borrow your coat – that was mean!” or “I should have set my alarm for 7am instead of 8am”.

Using “of” instead of “have” makes no grammatical sense in the English language, but because they sound similar when spoken out loud, people mix them up all the time.

Pronunciation

It’s easy to see why many people get confused here. The present tense verb of this word is pronounce, so many native English speakers automatically write and say “pronounciation”, with an o in front of the u, when really the word should be spelt pronunciation – which also changes how you say it.

It’s ironic that so many people pronounce the word pronunciation wrong, but that’s just one of the many funny things about the English language!

 

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