What a Travesty! The 5 Most Misused English Words

June 26, 2014
What a Travesty! The 5 Most Misused English Words

Languages are constantly evolving and are fascinating to linguists such as professional translators thanks to their mixture of commonly used words and those rarer gems that only make it into sentences from time to time. 

Many of these lesser used words are unfamiliar to a large part of the population and thus their meaning, when they are used, is often misunderstood due to the need to infer it from context.

However, there is a smaller sub-group of words that are also misunderstood but are actually quite commonly used. In that vein, here we take a look at five of the most frequently misused English words. 


A ‘travesty’ is a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something. Yet in everyday English the word is often used interchangeably with ‘tragedy,’ which refers to an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe. 
The misuse of the word is so widespread that it is even periodically included incorrectly in national newspaper reports and by leading global figures, such as Hillary Clinton

Your and you’re

Though the two sound almost identical, there is a clear difference in the meanings of ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ Sadly, it is a distinction lost on a large part of the English population when it comes to the written language. ‘Your’ means that something belongs to someone, while ‘you’re’ is the abbreviated form of ‘you are.’ Both words are frequently misused by those writing them. 

Their, there and they’re

As with your and you’re, these three similar sounding words confuse many people when it comes to their written form. ‘Their’ means belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified, while ‘they’re’ is the abbreviation form of ‘they are.’ To further add to the confusion, ‘there’ means in, at or to that place or position. The difference in meaning is clear when each is spoken, hence many people becoming confused when required to write one of them. 


Another commonly misused word, in both written and spoken English, is ‘supposably.’ Not even an actual word, ‘supposably’ is used by many individuals when they mean ‘supposedly,’ to imply that something is real or true without supporting evidence. 


‘Enormity’ is very often used to mean ‘largeness’ or ‘hugeness,’ but the word actually means a grave crime or sin or the great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong. Again, this is so commonly misused in English that it frequently appears incorrectly in printed publications whose writers ought to know better!

Which other words are commonly misused in English or in your native language? Use the comments box to let us know. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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