Differences Between American and British English

Have you ever come across a person who corrects you by telling you “it’s neighbour, not neighbor”? Or that “it’s a lift, not an elevator”? You might have studied those words in your books and have been saying “neighbor” and “elevator” all your life, but now this jerk comes up to tell you that you are wrong! You would be totally convinced you are the person speaking correct English, but the other person doesn’t retract either!

So, who is correct?

Are there multiple accepted spellings and terminologies in the same language? Can parts of speech be twisted to suit speakers of different regions? The collective answer is yes! People in the UK and USA have some minor differences in spelling, pronunciation, and even grammar at places. Of course, the accent is different too. And while the people in the UK speak English, they refer to American English as just “American”, and not “English”. But we’ll leave that fight and discussion for some other day.

Today, we are going to talk about the UK and US styles of the English language and have a look at the major differences between them. Even though they differ mostly in pronunciations and a few spellings most of the time, the differences are remarkable and the sentence structure changes at times too.

But First, How Did Everything Start?

In 1828, Noah Webster published “An American Dictionary of the English Language” in a bid to standardise spellings in the English language. He was frustrated with the use of words that didn’t actually sound like they were spelt and wanted to give them a proper phonetic touch. Prior to that, multiple variants of the same words were in use in different parts of the English-speaking world. Even though the dictionary couldn’t revolutionise the process in the UK, it significantly impacted the way words were spelt in the US. The shortening of the most prominent words by removal of the “u” was a result of the efforts of Noah Webster who even paid up the publishers to use his spellings. So, “colour” became “color“, “neighbour” became “neighbor”, “armour” became “armor”, and so on for the natives of the US.

This is to be noted that Webster didn’t invent all these spellings himself. He just tried to popularise some spellings; a few of them worked, but many didn’t. He did try to invent a few spellings himself but failed to promote them.

Also Read: Tips to Write A Human-Readable SEO-Friendly Blog

The Major Differences Between UK and US English

a. Generally, Spellings in the US are Shorter

The most common difference in the spellings is the shortened words in US English. For instance, “labour” in UK is “labor” in US, “honour” in UK is “honor” in US, “mould” in UK is “mold” in US, etc.

I believe the Americans are lazy with their spelling. They tend to cut short the spellings wherever they find convenient. For example, what the British refer to as “dialogue”, “monologue”, and “analogue” are simply “dialog”, “monolog”, and “analog” to the Americans. By the way, “catalogue” and “catalog” work just fine for the US. They have done just the same with many words ending with “ed”, “ing”, “er”, and “est”. For example “cancelled”, “counselling”, “traveller”, and “cruellest” are used in British English, while “canceled”, “counseling”, “traveler” and “cruelest” form the spellings for the same words respectively in American English. Similarly, US English cuts down the “e” from many words when adding suffixes. So, While British people write “ageing”, “likeable” and “routeing”, their US counterparts prefer “aging”, “likable” and “routing”. “Lovable”, “believable”, “curable”, “notable”, etc. are some spellings that are acceptable in both the UK and US versions of the language.

Many of the words that contain “ae” or “oe” in British English are spelt with just an “e” in US English. For example, “anaemia”, “paediatric”, and “oestrogen” in UK English are “anemia”, “pediatric”, and “estrogen” in US English.

Here again, there are exceptions. Words like “aesthetics” and “archaeology” can be spelt both ways in US English. And words like “encyclopaedia”, “foetus”, etc. can be spelt both ways in British English.

But again, there are some words that are spelt otherwise; British English actually drops some letters! For example, “enrol”, “enthral”, “appal”, “skilful”, and “instalment”, etc. are the accepted spellings in the UK style while “enroll”, “enthrall”, “appall”, and “skillful” make up the US style.

b. -ise/-yse or -ize/-yze? Which One Do I Use?

The British use the suffix “ise/yse” wherever required, while the Americans use “ize/yze”. Thus, “specialise”, “standardise”, “catalyse”, “hydrolyse”, etc. are commonly used in the UK style of writing, while the US style makes use of “specialize”, “standardize”, “catalyse”, “hydrolyze” respectively.

Also Read: Oxford Comma and its Significance

c. Do We Take Offence or Offense?

Another confusion that often arises is with the words ending with “ce” and “se”. Variants of the same words with both these suffixes are used interchangeably and it’s confusing at times to identify the part of speech and the correct variant to be used in a certain situation. Keep in mind, words ending with “ce” are nouns, like “advice”, “device”, “licence”, “practice” and words ending with “se” are verbs, e.g., “advise”, “devise”, “license”, and “practise”. But in US English, they use license and practice as both noun and verb. Gets me tangled at times! But wait, there’s more! The British use “defence” and “offence”, while the Americans spell them “defense” and “offense”, but the derivatives “defensive” and “offensive” are accepted in both the variants of English.

d. Is it Centre or Center?

Other than just these words, another prominent difference is in the words ending with “er” and “re”. While the British use “metre”, “litre”, “calibre”, “theatre”, etc., the US versions of the same words are “meter”, “liter”, “caliber”, and theater” respectively. But again, words with the suffix “meter” are the same in both variants, like “barometer”, “pentameter”, “thermometer”, etc.

Interesting fact: Many of the words ending with “er” were once spelt with “re” once. Examples are “December”, “member”, “disaster”, “chapter”, and a lot more.

Now, there are many exceptions here too, which shouldn’t come as a surprise!

Words like “anger”, “mother”, and “danger” end with “er” in the British version of the language too, while the words like “acre”, “massacre”, and “mediocre” are the permitted forms in the US English as well. These words are the same in both UK and US vocabulary.

Whenever the French style of pronunciation is used in words ending with “re”, (// rather than /ə(r)/), they stay the same in the US English. For example, “genre”, “oeuvre”, and “double entendre” are acceptable in US English because of their pronunciation. It should be noted that some words are acceptable with the “re” ending even though they are not pronounced like “genre” and other words in the league, for instance, “cadre”, “macabre”, “timbre”, etc.

There are many more spellings that vary wrt to the region they are being used in. There are many other aspects that differentiate the British and American variants of the English Language.

Watch out for the second part of this article to know how British and US English vary in terms of abbreviations, acronyms, and punctuation.

Also Read: 11 Words from the English Vocabulary That You are Using Wrong – And their Correct Meanings

How to write an Effective, Readable, and SEO-Friendly Blog Article

Writing takes a lot of passion, dedication, thinking, and research, among other things. It is one of the very few fields that I believe artificial intelligence would never be able to take over. You can train machines to do a set of tasks, but can’t make them fill a piece of article with emotions – the human touch will always be missing.

Got the point here?  Human touch is necessary – whether you are writing for humans or the search engine giants, Google in particular.

Quite often, writers are in a fix when it comes to writing blog articles. Do they talk naturally about the concerns of the audience they are addressing or do they stuff keywords for the search engines to rank their page? It is a common dilemma and many a time, people end up prioritizing the search engines by writing robotic content filled with the keywords they want the page to rank for.

But this is not the right approach, even Google doesn’t like this. Its algorithms keep on changing and updating at regular intervals to reduce spam and promote better content quality.

So what should you do to help the readers with their queries, yet appease Google to rank your pages?

In this article, I’ll tell you how to write an effective blog article that is readable, yet search engine friendly for you to get the required attention from them. It has to be understood that quality content takes time to get up high in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), but stays there for long and fetches large numbers of organic visitors to your blog. So don’t get disheartened if your article is not ranking yet for your most important keywords, take these necessary steps when you write your article and keep promoting it on various social media sites, bookmarking sites, article directories, and other relevant online spaces.

Tips to Write A Human-Readable SEO-Friendly Blog:

We are covering two aspects here, the human side, and the SEO perspective. let’s talk about both separately.

How to Make Your Blog Interesting and Readable for Humans?

1. What’s a decent word count?

No rule binds the word count of a good blog article. But if you want to give some information to your audience, an article has to be detailed enough to cover all the points precisely, but at the same time, not too long to be boring. A detailed blog article of 1500-2000 words is great, but if you do not have too much information to give and want to keep it short-n-sweet, keep it between 600-1000 words.

2. Write short sentences – maximum 20 words per sentence

It is important from the readability point of view to keep your sentences short. Try not to write sentences that are more than 20 words in length. Trim them, and cut them down into multiple sentences if a sentence starts getting longer. Also, don’t add too many semi-colons (;) in your article. Finish the sentence and start a new one in such situations.

For instance, I could have written the last two sentences as this: “Also, don’t add too many semi-colons (;) in your article; finish the sentence and start a new one in such situations.” But instead, I chose to end the first sentence with a period and added the second part as a completely new sentence.

Remember to keep your sentences in a flow and make use of coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to show a link between the previous and current sentences.

3. Don’t write too lengthy paragraphs

While the sentences should be short and crisp, the same should be the case with paragraphs. It is advised to keep your paragraphs’ length to around 100 words – a few more, at times, maybe, but not too much. Breaking your long texts into multiple paragraphs makes the whole article easier to read and understand the flow. Here again, it is a good idea to start a new paragraph with a coordinating conjunction to show a correlation between the two paragraphs.

4. Place important information first

Always make it a habit to mention the most important points and facts towards the beginning of the article. The more time you take to introduce the important information, the more the chances of your readers drifting away from your article.

5. Add bullet points

Presenting your content in the form of bullet points or numbered lists helps your readers better grasp and understand the information you want to convey. It is aesthetically pleasing too! So, if you have a long list of information that you want to bring to the notice of your website visitors, better put across a part of the content in the form of bullet points.

Also Read: What Differentiates US English from British English?

6. Write catchy headings

Headings are the best ways to entice your readers. Remember how you browse through your Facebook or Instagram feed and then you click on an article just because the headlines are catchy? You want to know more about it because the heading creates curiosity in your mind. Their purpose gets served then and there!

A great heading should provide a lot of information, yet conceal quite a bit for the readers to get curious and read the article to know more. So, imagine a scenario where you want to tell your readers about a great way to earn an enormous amount of money in your free time (I know; a very clichéd and imaginary scenario, but let’s just use it as an example). What are the possible ways you can write a heading for that? Let’s consider a few examples:

“A great way to earn unlimited money”

“Earn money in your free time”

“5 best ways to earn unlimited money”

All these examples seem too mainstream and generic, they won’t attract too many readers to your post. But when you give the same article an exclusive and catchy headline, it kind of works. See these examples:

“You won’t believe how a driver makes $500 in his free time every month”

Can you believe how much this housewife makes just by using this minor trick?”

“How much money this retired teacher made in a week will blow your minds”

Do you see how these titles build curiosity among the readers? These are some examples of great headings/titles for your blog. Chances are, you might have clicked on such links yourself a few times in the past. Now you can realize those were effective!

Not just the title, there should also be a few sub-titles, headings, and sub-headings in your article that should address different key points of your article and keep your website visitors hooked to the article.

7. Research extensively, provide information, and answer queries

An important aspect of writing anything is research. Do not base your article on your opinions, unless it is really about your opinions. Research on the topic you are addressing, gain as much knowledge as possible on the issue you are writing and then write a kick-ass article for the readers to read, enjoy, and learn. Provide information that they are looking for, answer their queries, and present proofs wherever possible if you are looping in strong facts or statistics.

8. Make it conversational

How will you feel if someone invites you for a chat and then goes on to banter about his/her knowledge or achievements for an entire hour without giving you a chance to speak?

Well, in writing, you can’t talk to your readers in real time, but you can sure make your articles are conversational and engaging. Why not ask questions in between? Share interesting experiences, let them think, and let them wonder! Make your readers feel like they are part of a conversation, not a lecture.

9. Use active voice

Writing your article in an active voice makes it easier for the readers to understand as the sentences are much simpler. So keep in mind, not more than 20% of the sentences in your blog post should be in passive voice for the better of your readers, and ultimately for your blog.

10. Write simple statements; avoid jargon

An important point to note is that not many of the readers that visit your website will be literary geniuses. So do not try to impress the online crowd with complex sentences and jargon that only the professors at Harvard will be able to understand.

Write in a tone that is simple for your target audience to understand. For example, the way of talking to a high school kid would be different from how you converse with a middle-aged person in his late forties. Also, the style of English and meanings of the same words vary from region to region, so always keep in mind who you are addressing with your article.

11. Make a visual impression – add images, infographics, and videos

No one likes to read a boring article filled with text and text everywhere! You should always compliment your blog articles with relevant images, infographics, or videos. Don’t forget to give due credit to the original owners though, if you are taking them from other websites.

Also Read: What is Readability Score and How Does it Impact Search Engine Rankings

How to Optimize Your Blog for Search Engines?

1. Do proper keyword research – Use LSI keywords

The most important factor that helps rank your website and drive traffic to your site is the presence of relevant keywords in your articles. There are many tools to help you find the best-suited keywords for your industry and the keywords that your competitors are using. You can also use those tools to analyze the best possible keywords, their competition, the price you would pay to rank your website for a certain keyword if you go for Google advertising, etc.

In addition, you should also make sure you are not over-using your keywords. Google ranks websites better that have a mix of the main keywords and related words on the pages. Experiment with long-tail keywords, use LSI keywords, and add synonyms of your main keyword for your content to appear natural and fetch better ranks in search engine rankings.

Read: What is Latent Semantic Indexing & Why Does it Matter for Your SEO Strategy?

2. Don’t stuff keywords

I believe you already have an idea that using too many keywords in your article will ruin it for you. It will do more damage than any good to your website ranking and chances are, you might get penalized by the search engines too. Though there is no strict rule about the percentage of keywords you can use in your text, it is generally advised to keep keywords in the range of 2-3% for the best result.

3. Optimize your title tags

All the titles and subtitles in your article, if optimized properly with relevant keywords, may greatly boost the overall SEO of your site. In simple terms, try to include your main or auxiliary keywords in the titles and subtitles in addition to the body text, and you can expect to see excellent organic traffic. You would also need to include meta descriptions that the search engines will display when your site appears in the search results.

4. Link the article to other articles that are relevant/related to it – internal/external links

Keeping all the articles on your blog inter-connected is good for SEO. So if you are writing an article on Top 10 Bakeries in New York, and you have an article titled How to Make Choco Chip Cookies in 30 Minutes, you should definitely provide the link to the latter somewhere in between, or at the end of the article as a recommendation to the readers. Also, it is good to add some external links in your articles – it may be a link to a stat or fact you are mentioning therein or a link to an article that is similar to what you have written and complements your article.

5. Don’t forget the Alt tags

Alt attributes are required to provide alternative information in the form of text for images, in case the image fails to load on the website visitor’s end because of some reason or the other. Hence, using your keyword as the alt text of an image will serve as an added keyword and will help your site with the SERPs.

The key to writing an effective article that readers will love and search engines will value greatly depends on how you optimize the article for them both. In the end, it should be a standard practice to edit the blog post thoroughly and proofread it for any spelling/grammatical mistakes. In case you would like your visitors to discuss the topic of the blog with you, you should also provide them with an option to comment on your blog or reach you easily via mail or social media.

Readability Score and its Impact in Ranking Your Article

The online world is ever-changing. Heaps of new content are uploaded every second. Besides, search engines’ algorithms to rank them are also changing.

There are some written rules relating to SEO that can help your website/blog rank higher. But again, there are many unwritten rules too that affect the rankings of your web pages. Keeping an eye on these factors may help your content achieve better quality. As an indirect result, your blog or website will get better rankings in SERPs.

One such crucial factor is Content Readability. Let’s discuss this in detail in this article.

What do we understand by Readability?

In the simplest of words, Readability refers to the quality of your writing. It denotes how easy it is to read and understand a piece of content.

What is a Readability Score?

Now, you already know about readable content.

But what may be easy to understand for a lawyer, may not be the same for a high school student. Something that’s readable for a doctor, may appear gibberish to even a college graduate.

Got my point here? Readability levels are subjective, as per different classes of the audience and setting. This is where Readability Score steps in!

A good readability score means the text is easier to comprehend for the masses. Readability formulas turn the factor of readability into a math equation. This is for the benefit of anyone who wants to check how readable their content is, before publishing. You can calculate the Readability score for both online and for offline content.

The formulas take into account various factors. For example, factors like words per sentence (sentence length), number of words in a paragraph and in total, the total number of sentences, use of polysyllabic words, syllables per word, number of complex words, etc. are used to calculate the score.

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease:

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease or Flesch Reading Ease calculates the approximate reading level of your content. Flesch Readability Score monitors average sentence length and average syllables per word to conclude how easy a text is. A higher score means the text is easier to read and understand.

How to calculate Flesch Reading Ease Score?

The formula to calculate Flesch Readability Score:

206.835 – (1.015 x Average Sentence Length) – (84.6 x Average Syllables Per Word).

Now, there must be a few questions crossing your mind:

What’s an ideal readability score?

Is there a perfect score we need to target for our web copies?

Why would an educated person want to read a text written on a level of 6th graders?

What readability score is the best for my next blog article?

To answer these, there is no fixed number! And there are valid reasons you should keep your copy fairly easy for all.

On the Flesch Readability scale, a score of 0-30 is the toughest and means the text is suitable for the university level. A score of 60-70 is plain English and easy to read for the average audience and suitable for online content. You should aim at a score of over 60 for your website and blog content; the higher, the better! 100 or more means it is very easy and written in the simplest of ways.

But the affinity for a great readability score shouldn’t make you dumb down your content! Write simple content. Help people understand complex ideas and terms. But don’t write in a manner/tone that the kindergarten students start laughing at.

This article will tell you about the various readability scores. Know how to make your content readable, and why to aim for a good score.

Also Read: Major Differences Between UK and US English

Grade Level Indicators

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level:

The Flesch Kincaid Grade Level measures how tough to read is a copy from the perspective of a US reader. In short, it tells how many years of schooling is required to understand a certain text copy.

The scores range from zero to 12, 12 being the toughest. So, an FC grade level score of 8 means an eighth grader, around 13-14 years of age, would be able to understand the text. A grade level of 7-8 is what most copywriters should target as a large percentage of readers in the US understand and prefer this level of writing.

Here is how we calculate the FC grade level score:

FC Grade level = (0.39 x words per sentence) + (11.8 x average syllables per word) – 15.59.

Negative scores are treated as zero, while scores over 12 are taken as 12.

Let’s see how the following sentences perform on the FC Reading Ease scale and FC Grade Level:

Hello there buddy. How are you doing?

FK Reading Ease – 94.5

FK Grade Level – 0.9

Easily understandable by 7-8-year-olds.

Hello there my beloved buddy. How have you been?

FC Reading Ease – 89.5

FC Grade Level – 1.9

8-9-year-olds can understand easily.

Hello there my revered companion. How is life treating you nowadays?

FC Reading Ease – 62.8

FC Grade Level – 5.9

Understandable by 13-14-year-olds.

Do you see how the reading ease decreases as we keep on adding more (complex) words and increasing the paragraph length? It works the same way with other grade level indicators too.

Understand what various Grade Level Indicators mean:

Gunning Fog Score: The Gunning Fog Index measures readability by analyzing complex words. “Complex words” are monosyllabic words that have three or more syllables. Proper nouns, jargon, and compound words also affect the score.

Gunning Fog Score = 0.4 X {(words / sentences + 100 X (complex words / total words)}.

Gunning Fog Score starts from 1 and has no upper limit. An ideal score is 7-8.

Coleman Liau Index: Coleman Liau Index checks characters per word and words per sentence to provide a readability score. The range for this index is 1 to 12. 7-8 is an ideal score on this scale.

Coleman Liau Index = 5.89 X characters / words – 0.3 X sentences / words – 15.8.

SMOG Index: This measure is widely used in healthcare readability testing. SMOG Index looks for syllables from parts of the complete text. It takes 10 sentences each from the beginning, middle, and end of the document to calculate the grade level.

SMOG Index = 1.0430 X square root of (30 X complex words / sentences) + 3.1291.

Automated Readability Index: Automated Readability Index (ARI) is calculated by using two variables – characters per word and words per sentence. It corresponds to the US grade level. Any value in decimal needs to be rounded off to the next whole number.

ARI = 4.71 X (characters / words) + 0.5 X (words / sentences) – 21.43.

Benefits of a Good Readability Score

Consider this – Google may or may not be ranking your content based on its readability. But, it sure takes into account the time a visitor stays on your page.

  • If your content is tough to read, visitors will navigate away from your site.
  • The time on site will be low.
  • The bounce rate will shoot up.

None of these is a positive sign. Your website will fail to perform!

On the other hand, if your content is easily readable, readers will stay on your page for longer durations. They might even check out other pages on your site. This will have a significant impact on your website’s reputation and organic rankings. Traffic to your site will gradually increase!

Always make sure your target audience understands your text easily.

Keep providing quality content and you will build a brand for yourself.

How to Improve the Readability Score of Your Web Copy / Blog?

Are you wondering how to improve your writing?

Here are some steps you may take to enhance the readability of your content:

  1. Keep sentences shorter – Try to keep your sentences as short as possible. Keep the maximum sentence length to 20 words. Divide one large sentence into multiple small sentences. It makes the text easy to read and process and has a direct impact on the readability score.
  2. Use fewer complex (monosyllabic) words – Using too many words that contain multiple syllables makes it tough to read the content. Having more such words hampers your readability score.
  3. Use transition words – Transition words like “so”, “thus”, “and”, “because”, “therefore”, etc. help establish a flow in your writing. They hint the readers into what’s coming next. Also, make sure you use different words to start different sentences. Starting multiple sentences with the same words negatively impacts readability.
  4. Avoid long paragraphs – There is no harm in finishing up and starting a new paragraph after every few sentences. Break up paragraphs, use bullet points, and insert sub-headings. This makes the text visually appealing and easily understandable.
  5. Use active voice – Passive voice makes a piece of text appear unclear and skewed. Sentences need extra effort to be understood. Why make life tough when you can convey the same message in simple a sentence using active voice?
  6. Don’t try to be overly impressive – Do not try to woo your readers with your impeccable vocabulary. It is a trap most writers fall into. Try to use words that people will understand. There is no point impressing them when they will not understand your point and will ultimately move away to other sources to get the information they were looking for.

We have talked a lot about various readability tests and readability formulas. But calculating the readability score manually is a tiresome task. Thankfully, there are several tools that make our lives easier. These tools do all the hard work to provide us with the readability scores we want.

Here are the top 4 readability tools that will help improve your copywriting:

  1. WebFXWebFX allows you to check the readability of your text in addition to providing numerous other digital marketing services. You can obtain Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Index, SMOG Index, Coleman-Liau Index, and Automated Readability Index with its help. It helps you to check the readability ease of a copy either directly from the URL, or by pasting the entire text.
  2. ReadableReadable.io offers a number of readability checks that include FK Grade Level, Gunning Fog Index, Coleman-Liau Index, SMOG Index, and Automated Readability Index. The tool also provides other insightful information on the usage of words, parts of speech, and keyword density in your text.
  3. Hemingway EditorHemingway editor is a useful tool that can help make your writing much easier for the readers. It helps detect complex words and sentences. Replace them with easier and shorter ones. It will detect the use of passive voice in your text. Change those sentences into active voice for better scores.
  4. Yoast: Yoast plugin for WordPress helps WordPress site owners with checking their Flesch Reading Ease score on the go. It tells if a part of the text is difficult to read so that it can be changed for easy understanding. Here are some guidelines on Yoast Readability.

11 Common Words You Might Be Using Wrong!

Do You Use These Words Incorrectly too?

There are many words in the English vocabulary that have different meanings but are often used for different purposes in written/spoken form. While many of these words have transformed their meaning to an extent over time and are now somewhat acceptable in their wrong form, many are still totally wrong, but are still used!

Here, in this article, I bring to you a list of 11 such words that are being used incorrectly across the globe, even by native speakers many a time! Let’s go through the list of words people say wrong!

Check if you are using these words right!

11 Words from the English Vocabulary That You are Using Wrong – And their Correct Meanings:

1. Terrific

Intended meaning: Great, fantastic

Correct meaning: Of great size, horrific, something that inspires fear

While the word terrific means something of great size or something that inspires fear (like a giant monster), its use is often slewed. People use it when they want to refer to something as “fantastic”, which is nowhere near to the original meaning. “Terrific”, in its true sense, is a negative word but is commonly used to signify something great in a positive sense and the twisted meaning of the word is widely accepted too. Hence, “terrific” is 1st on the list of wrong words.

2. Literally

Intended meaning: Figuratively

Correct meaning: Actually

“Literally” is quite clearly one of the most abused words of the present times. While in actuality, “literally” means “actually”, people use it to lay extra stress on an emotion. Say, for example, if someone says “I haven’t met my friend in literally 2 years”, he means that he hasn’t actually met his friend for the said period, but when someone says “I haven’t played golf in literally a thousand years”, he means he hasn’t played golf in a long time and is stressing on the fact that it has been a long time, indeed; this is a wrong usage of the word “literally”.

Also Read: The Importance of Oxford Comma

3. Plethora

Intended meaning: Lot of, enough of something, a complete range

Correct meaning: More than required, over-abundant

The meaning of “Plethora” is that there is more of something than what is required. But quite often, it is used to signify that there is enough of something or a complete range of options to look into. For example, we often say, “there is a plethora of TVs to choose from”. What we mean from this statement is that there are enough TVs to choose from, or there is a complete range of TVs that you can consider and choose from. But the statement just means that there are more TVs than actually required.

A “lot of books” is when you have a bookshelf with a capacity of 50 and there are 40 books, a “plethora” is when you stack 60 books on the same shelf, making it over-crowded.

4. Bemused

Intended meaning: Amused

Correct meaning: Puzzled, bewildered, confused

First, what does the word “amuse” mean? Amuse means to entertain someone, to make them smile or laugh, to make them happy. If you are amused by something, you want to laugh or smile. “Bemused” is nowhere near the meaning of “amused”. Even though it looks very similar to “amused”, the word “bemused” has nothing to do with being amused at all! “Bemused”, in fact, means being puzzled or confused, which is in a negative sense; quite on the other side of being “amused”.

Note: What does the word “Bewildered” mean in English?
Ans – Bewildered means puzzled, confused and indecisive.

Also Read: Differences Between American and British English

5. Irony

Intended meaning: Funny, unfortunate

Correct meaning: Opposite of what is expected

The word “irony” is my personal favorite on this list of incorrectly used words in the English dictionary! We often see the usage of this word regularly and most of the time, people who use the word are referring to a funny incident. But not always is an instance of irony a display of a sense of humor. In reality, “irony” is an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing, sometimes funny, and sometimes unfortunate. A marriage counselor filing for divorce is ironic, a teacher failing a test is ironic, stranded on an island with seawater all around, but no water to drink, that may also count as irony!

6. Redundant

Intended meaning: Repetitive, recursive

Correct meaning: Unnecessary, no longer useful

While people often mean “recursive” or “repetitive” when they refer to something as “redundant”, the word actually means the thing is just not useful anymore, or omitting it won’t have any negative effect. I believe the “re” at the start gives the wrong impression to make people believe it occurs again and again.

7. Dilemma

Intended meaning: A problem, a situation that requires choosing from equally viable alternatives

Correct meaning: A situation that requires to choose between two equally undesirable options

People often say things like, “I am in a dilemma whether to send my daughter to a play school or have her schooled at home”, or “Both the refrigerators are great, I’m in a dilemma about which one to buy”, and other things on similar lines. What people generally mean is that they are in a fix and can’t decide on the available options, while the real meaning of “dilemma” is to be in such a problem that both the options available are equally bad.

Also Read: Taking Your Business Global with Localization and Translation

8. Infamous

Intended meaning: Very famous

Correct meaning: Famous for negative reason(s)

Often incorrectly used to denote how famous a person or thing is, the word “infamous” means someone or something having an extremely bad reputation. For instance, soldiers are famous for their service and dedication to their nations, but killers are infamous for the murders they commit.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for abolishing slavery, while Adolf Hitler is infamous for his atrocities against the Jews.

9. Disinterested

Intended meaning: Bored, not interested

Correct meaning: Neutral, unbiased, impartial

The meaning of “Disinterested” in English is a very confusing issue. Sometimes used to denote “not interested”, or “bored”, “disinterested” actually means unbiased, or impartial. So in a match between two football teams, the referee has to stay “disinterested” so that he/she doesn’t give biased decisions, without being uninterested in the game.

10. Chronic

Intended meaning: Severe

Correct meaning: Persisting for a long time

Used quite often in the medical field, “chronic” simply means a disease or pain that has been in existence for a long time, quite often something that doesn’t go away with time; it may or may not be severe. But in practice, the word is often used to signify something severe. Mild pain in the knee joints may be chronic because it’s been there for many years, but not severe. Often, “severe” creates a sense of extra negativity in terms of seriousness.

11. Ultimate

Intended meaning: The best

Correct meaning: The last one

While we use “ultimate” as a medal of honor for something or someone of the highest class, the correct meaning, unfortunately, is that the thing or person is the last on the list. So, if we say, “he is the ultimate dancer in the group”, what we intend to say is that he is the best dancer in the group, but the literal meaning is that he is the last dancer (and it has nothing to do with how well or bad he dances).

This word “ultimate” is the last item on the list of these words, and hence, is the ultimate word of the list!

The Curious Case of Oxford Comma

The Basics First – What is an Oxford Comma?

(I’m surprised how a lot of people haven’t even heard of it!)

The Oxford comma, Serial comma, or Harvard comma is a comma placed immediately before a coordinating junction (‘and’ or ‘or’) in a list of three or more items. Take, for instance, these examples with three breakfast items:

I had bread, butter, and jam for breakfast today.

I had bread, butter and jam for breakfast today. 

The comma after ‘butter’ and before ‘and’ in the first sentence is the Oxford comma. Now, the meaning in both sentences is quite clearly understood, I had three items for my breakfast, namely – bread, butter, and jam. Simple! The usage of an Oxford comma doesn’t really make much of a difference here and the meaning is clear in both cases.

But now, consider this scenario:

Sam had Peter, a dentist, and a carpenter on his team.

Sam had Peter, a dentist and a carpenter on his team.

Do these two sentences convey similar meanings?

The first sentence means that there were four people in all – Sam, Peter, a dentist, and a carpenter – the meaning is perfectly clear!

On the other hand, the second sentence may mean there were just two people – Sam and Peter, while Peter was both a dentist and a carpenter. There is ambiguity in this sentence and those who don’t believe in Oxford comma may argue that there are, in fact, four people here too, and a comma before ‘and’ doesn’t really make any difference to the list!

Also Read: 11 Common Words You Might Be Using Wrong!

See how the omission of a Harvard comma may make Obama and Rihanna your parents (Lucky you!):

It is, in fact, a reality that there is no certain rule pertaining to the use of the Oxford comma and you are free to choose whether you would like to use it in your sentences, or not. But, in the end, the whole motive behind writing something is that the meaning should be clear to the people reading it. Heard about the example of the lack of the Oxford comma in Maine’s labour laws that cost the company $5 million in lawsuits?

An interesting read: How a company lost $5 million due to the lack of an Oxford comma.

Are you on Team Oxford Comma?

I am a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma and I tried to find out what people thought about it; how many of them resonated with my thinking, and how many thought it was plain pretentious. For this, I posted a question on LinkedIn asking people in my network for their valuable comments on the subject. I received hundreds of responses.

Most of the professionals who engaged in a conversation had something valuable to say and add to the subject. But I won’t say the whole LinkedIn family was united on the usage of the Oxford comma; a number of people had their own valid reasons for not using it.

Here are some of the comments I received from the experts in the field:

I am a huge fan of the Oxford comma, and unless specified otherwise, I always use it because it very specifically separates items in a list, rarely leaving any room for confusion –  Puja Lalwani

Yes, I think it’s essential to use the #OxfordComma. As when you want to differentiate and separate items in a list, it becomes easier for the reader to know how the pauses work and what are the items. Additionally, it looks organized – Pratyusha Das

Well, I prefer not to use #oxfordcomma much as it gives an impression that you about to write  more for the list but eventually you stop and end up with “and” along with the last name for the list –  Sameeksha Pardeshi

Unless you are writing for some specific publication, it’s totally up to you to use Oxford comma. But sometimes skipping it may create misunderstandings on the readers’ prospects who are possessive about its use. For instance, I can say that I love my friends, Harry Potter and parents. In this case, many readers may think that my friends are my parents and Harry Potter.

Unless I add an Oxford comma after parents. So I find it more convenient to use the Oxford comma especially when I am addressing a larger segment of readers who do not belong to the world of news editing – Anjali Bansal

I don’t like it, but sometimes, albeit rarely, I will agree with autocorrect and put one in to appease the mighty beast. Generally, however, I click ignore –  Phil Deakin

I believe to maintain the quality and tidiness while writing, oxford comma shall be used. Gradually we are coming to a platform where global content is in the need. So, using Oxford comma shall be practiced around – Urvashi Saraswat

In my opinion, it is important to use the Oxford Comma.

Reason: When you separate items in a list, it becomes convenient for the reader to know how the pauses work. Also, it looks organized .

For example,  My niches are market research, finance, and marketing.

Here, I separate finance and marketing with a comma because they are two different things –  Simran Malhotra

The Oxford comma keeps things organized, and isn’t that what punctuation is for? – Nancy M Scuri

It is of importance and also avoids any ambiguity. Anyhow established norms must be continued. It is necessary –  Zaheer Arif

No me gusta. Never liked it. But yes, on occasions I felt it was needed – Sucheta Biswas

Since I work as a Scientific Editor, it has become second nature to use the serial comma (for documents requiring American English) and the Oxford comma (for those requiring British English). Most other content mediums don’t necessarily ask for such stringent rules to be followed, so whether or not I use it depends on the medium I write for. Mainly because people who do not know the existence of the serial/Oxford comma can get confused by its use and think its misplaced –  Trushna Bhatt

This may be a different approach to the thought since I visualize what I read and that is just a personal perspective, but, you pause when you and only an #OxfordComma does it for me – Siddharth Aalambayan

I don’t think it’s necessary, but I will personally always use it. For me, it allows a pause for breath, so I’m a fan –  Jasmine Ballard

Maybe we can use it when we are listing proper nouns (I love my sisters Aruna, Runa, and Una.) VS a generic listing (I love writing with pencils, sketch pens and ink pens). There isn’t much scope of confusion in generic terms. This is how I use it. Newspapers and AP style don’t require it. So, if we are writing for audiences who only read the papers they might consider it an error – Aruna S

Also known as the Serial  comma, the Oxford comma is pretty much an optional  comma before the word ‘and’ & ‘or’ in a list. Some style guides suggest its use while other’s suggest to skip it.

I usually skip it as it does not affect the clarity and meaning of a sentence .

If you are supposed to write in a particular format then, you are definitely required to use it but, if there is no definite style guide for you to follow, it is good to skip it. it seems quite unnecessary to me –  Preeti Sagar

Also Read: What Differentiates the American and British Styles of English?

It is necessary to keep including Oxford Commas except for the times when it might mislead the readers. Not many of our readers understand the Oxford Comma. Sometimes, it may lend clarity to the content while a few rare times might lead to ambiguity. Hence, you can use it as long as it doesn’t get misinterpreted, in which case, you can go without the Oxford Comma – Lakshmi Padmanaban

Now, from all the responses received, it was evident that more and more people were into the use of the comma while quite a few were against it. Even though a consensus can’t always be reached, I would advocate the use of Oxford commas so as to remove ambiguity from sentences and be clearer with your messaging.