Are you using the right word?

Words can be a bitch. A single misplaced letter could make people wonder if the spelling is not your strong suit. If you slip up too often, then your professional competence might be called into question, especially in the workplace.

I’m not talking about the occasional typo. While these aren’t desirable, everyone can be forgiven a slip on the keyboard from time to time. I’m talking about misused words. The words you’ve confused with ones that have entirely different meanings.

Here are five commonly misused words.


I see this misused all the time – and it drives me bonkers.

Compliment means praise.

RIGHT: My boss complimented me on how well I had written the report
WRONG: My boss complimented me on how well I had written the report

Complement means something supplements or completes something else.

RIGHT: The pink cushions and green sofa complement each other.
WRONG: The pink cushions and green sofa complement each other

in store/installed

Next time you go to a work dinner, listen carefully to the MC when they welcome you for the evening. Are they using the term “installed” when they really mean “in-store”?

RIGHT: “We’ve got a great evening of entertainment in store for you tonight.”
WRONG: “We’ve got a great evening of entertainment installed for you tonight.” [unless the entertainment is an installation – ed.]

hear hear/here here

I see this misused on Twitter every single day, so make sure you get it right. When someone makes a statement you agree with, you respond with: “hear, hear”, NOT “here, here”. It’s derived from the expression that became commonly used in England “hear him, hear him” to indicate a listener’s agreement with a speaker.


I often see this misused, particularly in reference to the word “risk”. You see it in blogs, you hear it on the radio, you read it in emails. Take a look at this sentence: “If you are averse to risk, you might not invest a large sum.” This is the WRONG use of the word “adverse”!

Averse means disinclined. Example: He was averse to taking risks.

Adverse means are unfavorable. Example: They experienced adverse weather.


These two words are often used interchangeably. But they shouldn’t be, because they have very different meanings.

The principal means first or highest in rank. It can also refer to a capital sum.

Example: He was appointed principal partner in the law firm

The principle means a fundamental truth or proposition.

Example: Creating a sustainable business model is one of our company’s key principles.

In the workplace, the words you use are a direct reflection of your knowledge, communication skills, and ‘care factor’. If in doubt, look the word up in the dictionary and make sure you get it right. In some instances, the words you choose are the only chance you’ll get to make an impression on people. So make sure it’s a good one.

Valerie Khoo is Managing Director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point, Sydney. As one of Australia’s leading centers for writing training, the center runs short courses to help people write with confidence and improve their business communication skills. Valerie blogs about storytelling and small business at

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