20 English Expressions You Didn’t Know Were Wrong
What are English Expressions?
English expressions are a group of words or various groups of words that are used in specific ways and they all have their particular meanings depending on the way they are used in a context. English expressions are divided into many different parts and all these parts cannot be mentioned. However, some of the main expressions include idioms, clichés, phrasal verbs, proverbs and so on. Idioms are a type of English expression whose meaning are illogical or not clear when the words are translated individually.
An idiom does not actually mean what the words say literally. For example, it rained cats and dogs does not actually mean that cats and dogs rained down. It only means that it rained heavily.
Clichés are English expressions that have been overused by people and are no longer considered special or original. An example is ‘happily ever after’ which has been used so much even in stories.
Phrasal verbs are verbs that contain two or three words and are formed with an adverb or preposition or both in some cases. It is another type of English expression that has both literal and figurative meanings. An example is ‘buying a new car has really eaten into my savings’ (eaten into means depleted or used up something).
A proverb is a short sentence that is well known that gives advice or says something that is true. An example is ‘waste not, want not’. This means that if someone is not wasteful the person wouldn’t need a lot of things. Generally, English expressions are really broad in nature.
20 English Expressions You Didn’t Know Were Wrong
There are some idioms and phrases which are used wrongly and many people are not actually aware of this. Some of them are:
- Step foot in
If you want to tell someone that you would never appear somewhere it is wrong to say ‘step foot in’. Step is the sound your foot makes when walking or the act of moving your foot to walk. It may not sound wrong but it is grammatically incorrect.
Correct: Set foot in
- Wreck havoc
Wreck havoc is a wrong form of English expression. A wreck is a car, plane, ship or building that has been severely damaged. It can also mean a person who is in a bad condition physically or mentally. A wreck is very similar to havoc therefore you can’t use them together because they mean almost the same thing.
Correct: Wreak havoc
- Peak my interest
‘Peak’ in this idiom is wrongly used. Peak means the pointed top of a mountain. It can also mean the point at which somebody or something is at its strongest or most successful.
Correct: Pique my interest
- I could care less
When someone is trying to say that they do not care at all about something or they absolutely have no concern for something; it is wrong to say I could care less. This means that you still care a little bit which contradicts your intention.
Correct: I couldn’t care less
- Another thing coming
This expression is an example of a misheard expression. What people heard is actually different from the main expression itself. ‘Another thing coming’ may seem correct but it doesn’t fit the phrase. Semantically, the noun think is more fitting than thing: you think something and express your thought.
Correct: Another think coming
- Statue of limitations
‘Statue’ in this phrase is incorrect. A statue is the figure of a person or animal which is usually in real life size or larger and is made in stone, wood, metal, etc. This does not fit the law aspect that it is supposed to represent.
Correct: Statute of limitations
- On tender hooks
This is an idiom that is said wrongly. There is no such thing as a ‘tender hook’ because a hook cannot be tender. It is actually on ‘tenterhooks’. A tenterhook is a hook that was used in the past as a drying frame for clothes. To be ‘on tenterhooks’ means to be anxious or excited about something. To be on pins and needles also means the same as to be on tenterhooks.
Correct: On tenterhooks
- Safe haven
Safe haven is a wrongly used expression. A haven is a safe and peaceful place where people are protected. Therefore, safe haven is like a repetition of words since a haven is already safe.
- Less than 800 words
This expression is a grammatical error. Less means a smaller amount of something and is used with uncountable nouns. Since words can be counted, it is wrong to use less.
Correct: Fewer than 800 words
- Complimentary card
There is nothing like a complimentary card. Complimentary means something that was given free to people. It could also mean expressing praise about something or somebody. This has no link to business at all.
Correct: Business card
- Prostrate Cancer
This phrase is wrong because prostrate means to lie on the ground and face downwards. This has nothing to do with cancer at all.
Correct: Prostate Cancer
- First come, first serve
This phrase which is commonly used is actually wrong. If you say first come, first serve you are saying that whoever comes first will serve first. However, this phrase is supposed to mean that whoever comes first will be attended to first.
Correct: First come, first served
- To disvirgin
This expression is wrong and many people may not realize it. There is no word like disvirgin in the English dictionary. If the virginity of something or someone is taken away then it is called ‘deflower’.
Correct: To deflower
- Baited breath
Baited is wrong in this phrase. A bait is a person or thing used to attract or catch somebody or something. It can also be food on hook used to catch fish. Therefore, this does not fit the expression it is trying to convey.
Correct: Bated breath
- Damp squid
This is an idiom that is wrongly expressed. There is nothing like a damp squid because a squid is a sea creature which means it is always damp. The correct expression should be damp squib. A squib is a small firework. This idiom means something that is disappointing because it did not meet up to expectations.
Correct: Damp squib
- Pour over
This is a wrongly expressed phrase. If you pour over something you are making it wet. This has nothing to do with the actual meaning of this phrase. The correct phrase should be ‘pore over’ which means to look at or examine something carefully.
Correct: Pore over
This is a word that is commonly used and is actually wrong. Installmentally does not exist in the dictionary so it cannot be used.
Correct: In installment
- Of recent
This is a phrase that is wrong. Of and recent should not be used together because it is grammatically incorrect.
- Wake-keep or wake-keeping
Wake-keep is incorrect. It is used by many people but it is very wrong. There is no word like wake-keep or wake-keeping in the dictionary.
There is nothing like outrightly in the English dictionary. Outright remains outright even as an adjective and adverb it doesn’t change.
Best English Expressions to Use
Some of the best expressions which are commonly used are:
- A penny for your thoughts: This can be used to ask someone about what they are thinking.
- Actions speak louder than words: This means that what people do has more impact than their words.
- Barking up the wrong tree: This means accusing the wrong person or looking at the wrong place.
- Beat around the bush: This means avoiding the main point and saying unimportant things.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover: This means you can’t make decisions based on the outward appearance of something.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: This means that you should not put all your hopes in one situation or person.
- Hit the nail on the head: This means to say the exact thing at the right time.
- Let the cat out of the bag: This means to reveal information that was previously a secret.
- A piece of cake: This means something or a job that is actually very easy.
- Taste of your own medicine: This refers to when a person gets what they deserve or what they have done to others.
- Break a leg: This is used to wish someone good luck.
- Give someone the benefit of doubt: This means to give a person the chance to prove himself or to trust someone.
- Bite off more than you can chew: This means to take on more than you can handle.
- Don’t cry over spilled milk: This means don’t complain about something that is already done and can’t be changed.
- Every cloud has a silver lining: This means that good things can still happen after all the bad things.
- Hang in there: This is used to encourage someone. It means don’t give up.
English expressions such as idioms, proverbs, and phrasal verbs are a necessary part of the English language. They cannot be overlooked and should be used frequently. It is important to learn the meanings and right forms of these expressions so that they can be used rightly. When English expressions are used rightly, it makes both written and spoken English language better and richer. People should refer to their dictionary whenever they get confused about the correct words or expressions to use.