You want your colleagues to think you’re bright and competent. But your weak word choice might be raising eyebrows and red flags. After all, people might not actually know what you’re trying to say.
Grammar rules were created to make communication clear. When you use words incorrectly, you can look sloppy and imprecise. Poor word choice also hinders communication and confuses issues, write Ross and Kathryn Petras, authors of “That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means.”
In their book, they detail 150 of the most commonly misused words. Acquaint yourself with these word pairs which you’ve likely misused at work on more than one occasion.
1. Prerequisite vs. Perquisite
A “prerequisite” is “a thing that is required as a prior condition.” For example, “Working in a contract role for three months was a prerequisite for later gaining full-time employment.”
A “perquisite” is a perk, similar to something you’d receive in addition to your salary. For example, “Under my leadership, our company was one of the first to offer pet insurance as a perquisite.”
2. Perspective vs. Prospective
“Perspective” relates to a particular way of looking or thinking about something. For example, “As a woman of color, I will bring a unique perspective to how you market your products.”
Prospective means “expected in the future.” As in, “Based on prospective market analysis, I invested $40,000 into building our digital team and saw a 25 percent gain on investment.”
3. Less vs. Fewer
When deciding whether to use “less” or “fewer,” ask yourself: Is this countable?
“Fewer” should be used for numbered, countable things such as people or other plural nouns. Here’s an example: “I managed fewer than 20 people at my previous job.”
Use “less” for singular mass nouns that can’t be reasonably counted, such as sand on the beach. Also, use “less” for numbers usually paired with the word “than.” For example, “While I was acting manager, less than 3 percent of our staff quit.”
4. Tact vs. Tack
Tact is the ability to deal with difficult or sensitive issues. For example, “I used tact when providing feedback to underperforming employees, which made them more likely to improve in those areas.”
Tack, on the other hand, can have multiple meanings. One meaning is ‘to fasten.” In this case, you might use this word as a verb to say, “I suggested that we tack on a small service fee to boost our profits.”
You can also use this word to describe a changed course or direction. At a job interview, one might say, “I realized that my plan wouldn’t put us on track to hit our five-year goal, so I had to change tack.”
5. Literally vs. Figuratively
“Literally” is literally one of the most overused words and it’s one that’s often used incorrectly. Literally is defined as “in a literal manner or sense” or “exactly to the letter.” In other words, you aren’t literally drowning under your workload. Instead, say “figuratively,” which means “not actually” or “metaphorically.”
6. Methodology vs. Method
People often use “methodology” when they mean to say “method.” That’s likely because “methodology” can sound more official and important. “Methodology” technically means the study of methods or systems, whereas method is defined as “a procedure” or “a way of doing something.” So you wouldn’t say, “the best methodology for increasing sales is to focus on the customers’ needs.”
7. Imply vs. Infer
While both words deal with communicating and processing information, “imply” and “infer” have different meanings.
When you imply, you’re the speaker and the one providing information and meaning.
When you infer, you’re the listener. You’re the one receiving information and taking a certain meaning from that information.
By Ruth Umoh