Common words that don’t mean what you think they do

Did you know that ‘convince’ and ‘persuade’ aren’t interchangeable? Neither are ‘anticipate’ and ‘expect,’ and a few other pairs you probably never imagined you were using incorrectly.

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Most of us communicators are self-professed word nerds.

We hold strong opinions about whether to use the Oxford comma. We poke fun at Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” because none of her examples of irony are, in fact, ironic. We silently—yet lovingly—judge our friends who say they “literally ate all the food at Thanksgiving” because, well, they didn’t.

Although we might have a stronger command of English than our friends and relatives, we aren’t impervious to mistakes.

I’m reminded of this often. When Ragan Communications’ executive editor, Rob Reinalda, edits my writing, he also imparts helpful grammar and usage tips. This includes pointing out words and phrases that don’t mean what I—and probably many others—think they mean.

A few examples are below. Are you ready to eat some humble pie?

1. Anticipate/expect

Anticipate seems straightforward, but there’s more to its usage than simply expecting or awaiting something. To anticipate entails preparation.

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