Home : English Pet Peeves

blow-mindDiscussions of English Language pet peeves provide an entertaining forum for the expression of ire. In fact, if a “pet” is something we cherish, and a “peeve” is something that annoys us, “pet peeves” are what we love to hate. Here’s a collection of common English solecisms—guaranteed not to literally blow your mind:


English Pet Peeves: Logic Problems

  • “I could care less.” – If you’re expressing disinterest, you couldn’t care less.
  • Every time I hear Paul McCartney sing, “In this ever-changing world in which we live in,” I cringe. Correct usage is “… in which we live.”
  • “The reason why this happened is because…” – use either “why” or “because,” but not both.
  • The reason this happened is because …

    The reason why this happened is …

    To be picky, we can do away with “The reason” if we precede the cause with “because.”

    This happened because …

  • “Where’s it at?” – It’s at over there.
  • “Comprising of” – should be “comprising” or “comprised of.”



English Pet Peeves: Acronyms and Repetition

  • Why repeat the word that the last letter stands for (ISBN, VIN, ATM)?
  • Shouldn’t we get ISB numbers for our books?
  • Why don’t our cars have VI Numbers?
  • Why don’t we get cash from an AT Machine?




  • Plan ahead, plan for the future – can you plan behind?
  • Hot water heater – Why would you heat it if it’s already hot?
  • Past history – As opposed to future history?
  • It was a very unique experience – Are there degrees of uniqueness?
  • final conclusion – conclusions are assumed to be final unless you specify they’re preliminary
  • pre-recorded – You can only record it once.
  • pre-planned – Is this the time before the planning?
  • reply back or respond back – “Back” is assumed.
  • first-ever – if it’s first, “ever” is implied.



  • Same difference – Please choose one.
  • Free Gift – Really? I usually pay for gifts.


Imaginary Words

  • The seminar orientated me to my new job responsibilities. (oriented)
  • We’ll conversate after the meeting. (converse)


Confusion and Abuse

  • “You’ve got two choices.” – usually means someone has one choice between two options.
  • “…on either side” – usually means on both sides
  • “It literally blew my mind” – usually means figuratively. Your head did not explode.
  • further vs. farther – farther refers to physical distance; further refers to figurative distance: “Is it more than a mile farther down the road?” “Yes, would you like further directions?”
  • lie vs. lay – To “lay down” means to spread baby duck feathers across a surface.
  • lose vs. loose – If your button is loose, you’ll lose it when it falls off.
  • everyday vs. every day – Summer rains are an everyday occurrence; they happen every day.
  • good vs. well – “good” describes character or desirability. “Well” describes status.
  • fewer vs. less – Use “fewer” with countable objects. Use “less” to refer to matters of degree or status: After the delivery, one less package left him with fewer to deliver.
  • advise vs. inform – to “advise” is to suggest. To “inform” is to present with factual information.
  • goes vs. says – “goes” is outright slang—not an acceptable substitute for “says.”
  • loath vs. loathe – “Loath” is an adjective meaning hesitant or unwilling. “Loathe” is a verb meaning to dislike.
  • discrete vs. discreet – “Discrete” means different or unique. “Discreet” means hidden or respectful of privacy.
  • moot vs. mute – The point was moot and not worth pursuing so Bill stayed mute on the matter.
  • incidences instead of incidents
  • ensure vs. insure – To “insure” means to purchase insurance. To “ensure” means to make sure: He insured his valuables to ensure their safety.
  • Irregardless – “regardless” with a skin tab
  • nuclear vs. nucular – “Nucular” is a mispronunciation of “nuclear.”
  • alot vs. a lot – “Alot” is incorrect; use two words to suggest “a lot full of items.”
  • .50 cents = half a penny
  • peaked vs. piqued – “Piqued” means to catch attention. “The coin piqued his interest but in a few moments, his curiosity peaked and then he moved on.
  • data vs. datum – data is a plural noun, often used incorrectly as a singular noun.


Weak Substitutions

  • doable vs. feasible – “doable” is an improvised “verb + able” word
  • use vs. utilize – “utilize” is pedantic and pseudosophisticated
  • momentarily – means for a very short time. When the pilot says, “We’ll be in the air momentarily, he’s implying that you’ll only be off the ground for a moment.”



  • waiting on vs. waiting for – The attendant waited on the customers while they waited for their luggage to arrive.
  • should of vs. should have
  • different from vs. different than – “different from” is technically correct: The red ball is different from the blue ones. Use “different than” when making a comparison: Today, things are different than they were in 1980.
  • “One in ten people are …” – the subject (One) is singular, so use “is.”

Hollow Clichés and Crutches

  • “To be honest with you…” – can’t we assume you’re being honest?
  • “The fact of the matter is…” – an empty crutch phrase
  • “untimely death” – who schedules their death? These words cling together to form a tired cliché.
  • “back in the day” – does this mean breakfast?


Evolving Language

  • impact vs. affect – “impact” is not a verb, though its use as one is so widespread that it will probably become one.
  • who vs. whom – “whom” is fading from language to a point where many grammarians are discarding it like “thee” and “thou.” You’ll find a list of them in Who’s Whom? For Editors.
  • functionality vs. function – lots of common crossover here. Theoretically, a program with more functions has greater functionality.


What are your favorite English pet peeves? Or is it redundant to have a “favorite” pet peeve?


English Pet Peeves — 41 Comments

  1. It’s possible that Paul McCartney is singing “The ever changing world in which we’re living.” That and your version would sound very much the same when sung.

    • We’re both wrong. Turns out it’s:

      But if this ever changin’ world
      In which we live in
      Makes you give in and cry
      Say, “live and let die …”

      I’m happy to be wrong in this case. Thanks.

  2. I just saw this and have to say that you point out nearly all the things that bother me. I would add the excessive use of jargon. For example, in a video interview, a medical examiner said he was “attempting to determine how the victim became deceased” instead of just saying “trying to figure out how the victim died.”

    • I’m responding to myself because I forgot to add that “on either side” does not mean the same thing as “on both sides.” “On either side” means that there might be something on one side or the other but was definitely on at least one side at any given time or place. “On both sides” means that there was something on both sides at any given time or place. So for example, “I was driving down a country road that had rice paddies on either side” means that there was always a rice field on this side or that side or both sides. “On either side” can also, of course, mean “in this side or that side, it doesn’t matter which.” E.g., “Where should I put the andirons?” Answer: “On either side of the fireplace, of course, stupid!”

  3. This is probably the third time I’ve read your article – smiled all the way though each time. I could add to the list but you’ve pretty much covered 90% of my list.

    Thank you!

  4. To the chagrin of those who know me, I have a long list of pet peeves when it comes to the English language. Rather than subject you to my litany, I mention the two that frustrate me the most.
    1.) When writing Thank You notes or e-mails (in fact, even in speaking), more often than not, the actual Thank You is never expressed, e.g.
    “Dear Susie, I want to thank you for the lovely dinner you hosted Thursday evening, I had a wonderful time. Sincerely, Sally Jones”.
    It is great that you WANT to thank Susie for hosting dinner, however, wanting to do something and actually doing it are two separate issues. A more effective version is,
    “Dear Susie, Thank you for the lovely dinner you hosted Thursday evening. I had a wonderful time. Sincerely, Sally Jones”.
    2.) Actionable is a legal term referring to an event against which legal action may be taken, usually in reference to contracts. The term has nothing to do with acting upon a suggestion or the like – “This useful list of pet peeves has many items to act upon immediately in order to improve one’s writing, although it contains no actionable items for attorneys to take note of.”
    Thank you for the opportunity to add to your list and prolong the purity of the language for a little while longer (hopefully, longer than momentarily). 😉
    Enjoy your evening,

  5. I really enjoyed reading this and getting into the nuances of certain words. One of my peeves is when people say sister-in-laws, mother-in-laws, etc. instead of the correct sisters-in-law.

  6. sports commentators and news casters who use someone’s name followed immediately by a pronoun…example – “John Smith, he threw for three touchdowns.” Sets my teeth on edge.

  7. Great article…plan to forward the link to my mother, a retired English teacher, because I know she’ll appreciate it. However, in an article about English Pet Peeves, I find it more than a bit disappointing that the proofreader missed a spelling error/typo. 🙁

    •Why don’t out cars have VI Numbers?

  8. Another one that kills me is when someone says something like:

    “There’s too many reasons why that won’t work.”

    I’ll reply “There ARE too many reasons?” But they still don’t seem to catch on.

  9. There’s a phrased used in news reports which irritates me.

    ‘First Since’.

    Example: ‘He’s the first black hockey player to score a hat trick since John Doe in 1955’.

    He’s not the first. He’s the second.

    The phrase should read, ‘He’s (only) the second black hockey player to score a hat trick since John Doe in 1955’.

    I have argued this with people who tell me it’s accurate since the person IS the ‘FIRST SINCE’ etc.

    However, I believe ‘first since’ is inaccurate and misleading.

    Do you agree or disagree? Please let me know.

    • Nope. The event happened for the second time, but this instance is the first time since the last occurrence. We’re not counting instances; we’re resetting the number to zero at some past point and then marking the first new occurrence. Good try, though.

    • The logic is amusing, but of course, the pre- refers to the insurance policy application, not to the condition. The condition should not exist prior to to the application. You get points for humor.

  10. You neglected solecisms caused by the misuse of spell-checkers. My “favorite” pet peeve is the writers who “defiantly” (dis)agree with a particular assertion, because they typed “definatly” instead of “definitely”–no doubt the effects of a mixture of phonics and poor pronunciation, but I digress. The spell-checker, looking for the word that is most like what they typed, suggests “defiantly,” and the writers, assuming the spell-checker must be smarter than they are, dutifully and/or indolently accept the suggestion.

  11. Ah, to be a bee on the wall (fly is sooo overused, don’t you think?) when you and Joel Canfield meet over a pint to have what I am sure will be mind-blowing (not literally…way too messy and gross) conversation. I’ve always loved the way you think.

  12. My current peeve is the confusion between forcibly and forcefully. The latter seems to be used because it is longer when it’s wrong by writers who use utilize for the same reason. The cops enter premises forcibly when demanding forcefully does not work.

  13. When someone says “I’m glad I was apart of this project.” I think ‘with grammar like that, you should have been “apart” from this project.’

    Do people not know that ‘a part’ is really what they’re trying to say?

    I’ve never cared for ‘same difference’ and I feel the same way about ‘non-issue’.

  14. Dave – – I’m reminded of my 5th grade teacher on our 1st day in class. I raised my hand around 11 a.m. and when she called on me I asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

    She replied, “Yes, you can, but no, you may not!”

    I replied, “Well, please make up your mind or I’m going to pee on the floor!”

    She let me go and when I returned the class (and I) learned the difference between “can” meaning “ability to” and “may” meaning a “request for permission”.


  15. Gonna have to call foul on data, Brick 🙂 You mention the pedants more than once, and as someone who has worked with data in them there databases for multiple decades, I have never ever heard anyone lean on that Latin formation for this word without sounding, erm, pedantic.

    “Same difference” has a logical origin, though I agree it’s a dorky saying. 5 – 3 and 6 – 4? Same difference; they are equal.

    I’ll also call foul on folks who come to a word and writing blog to bag on one of the greatest artists of our time. Fine to dislike McCartney, but does it really add value to this conversation? IMTAO* it does not.

    Fun post which is probably also useful for those who don’t have all these things embedded in their consciousness yet (or who work better with a checklist than filling their heads with this stuff.)

    * In My Totally Arrogant Opinion

    • Perhaps data/datum belongs in the “evolving language” section. Technically, it’s plural but if you use “datum” in public, you’ll draw strange looks.

      “Same thing” is okay, but unless you want to say that 6-2 is the “same difference” as 7-3, it rings of colloquial blurting to me.

      I rather like McCartney myself along with Chopin and Django Reinhardt and Prokofiev. However, though I just dumped 1500 spam comments out of my filter, I hate to be a censor. I hope for constructive participation, but try to keep the lights on and the door open. Usually, if someone strays too far from the target, other readers step in and allow me my pretense to objectivity.

      Thanks as always, Joel.

        • “Pejorative” isn’t my style. Speech is fundamentally a “blurted” mode of expression, but I believe good prose is well-considered and informed by knowledge of the language. Find your style somewhere between gutter slang and Oxford, but do so consciously. “Same difference” strikes me as a response that’s subconsciously tied to a particular meaning (and is therefore fine for informal speech like just about everything else), but which begs for rewording in a written document. If someone wants to “ax” me a question or tell me he “ain’t” coming, and that’s the dialect he uses, I won’t complain, but if you write those forms, you’ll see a comment from me in the margin.

    • According to LearnersDictionary.com, “disinterest” can mean “impartial” OR be a synonym for “uninterested,” so I’m going to use my pass and leave it as is. However, any article about solecisms must contain at least one of its own according to Murphy’s law. I give you full credit for a good catch. I’m sure someone will find something egregious in it sooner or later.

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