In writing, there are certain mistakes that are common traps. There are grammatical issues (like using an adjective instead of an adverb) and punctuation problems (like comma splices) that even the best writers fall victim to from time to time. But these are the technical aspects of writing – slipups that can be caught fairly easily in editing. But what about when the words themselves are incorrect? Well, that can change the meaning of your sentence entirely.

In the past on the blog, we’ve looked at word pairs that are often mixed up. It can be easy not to know the exact difference between “fewer” and “less.” Even if you do choose the wrong one, chances are most readers won’t notice and their comprehension of your overall writing won’t be negatively affected. But those words that mean something totally different from what you think they do are the real problems.

We once had a reader critique a piece of writing as being “obtuse,” which, as it turns out, they thought meant “unclear.” As you can imagine, it was a rocky road to try and figure out what the actual feedback was and more than a few feathers were ruffled along the way. Making sure you are one hundred percent certain of a word’s meaning (and possible connotations) is as important a part of writing as is coming up with the plot itself. Using incorrect words will mean your point or story will not be communicated effectively and is a major misstep in writing.

These are fifteen of the most commonly misused words we’ve come across. Learn their true definitions and watch as communication becomes more smooth!

  1. Bemused means “confused” or “distracted,” not “amused” or “charmed”
  2. Adverse means “detrimental,” not “opposing” (that would be “averse”)
  3. Deep-seeded is not actually a word; “deep-seated” is, though
  4. Facetious means “flippant,” not “sarcastic” or “fake” (that’s “fictitious”)
  5. Disinterested means “unbiased” or “impartial,” not “uninterested”
  6. Ironic means “uncannily incongruous” or “paradoxical,” not “unfortunate” or “inconvenient” (blame Alanis Morissette for this one)
  7. Flout means to “disobey a rule or custom,” not “show off” (that’s “flaunt”)
  8. Enervate means to “weaken,” not to “energise”
  9. Obtuse means “dense” or “unintelligent,” not “unclear”
  10. Flounder means to “flop around” in an ineffective way, not to “sink,” “fail” or “founder”
  11. Nonplussed means “dumbfounded” or “bewildered,” not “unimpressed”
  12. Literally means “in actual fact” and not “figuratively speaking”
  13. Parameter refers to a “variable” or “condition,” but not a specific boundary (that would be “perimeter”)
  14. Simplistic means “naive” or “overly simplified,” not “simple” or “straightforward”
  15. Noisome means “smelly” and not “noisy”

What word does it irk you to see used incorrectly?

About Paperblanks: 25 years ago, we created Paperblanks to help keep book heritage alive and vital in our modern age, and to offer an inspiring space for people to express themselves. Thanks for joining us on this journey! For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at


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