Can You Identify These Commonly Misused Phrases?

By: Maria Trimarchi

Can You Identify These Commonly Misused Phrases?
Image: Hinterhaus Productions/ DigitalVision/gettyimages

About This Quiz

Would you say you've got a handle on common phrases in English? What does that mean, anyway, to have a handle on something? Speaking and writing sure would be easier if words and sentences had literal handles that we could grab onto.

In this doggie-dog world, mistakes in speech or writing could keep you from getting a promotion - or even a job. (Or should that be, in this dog-eat-dog world?) If you think you have an excellent command of language, curve your enthusiasm. (Or should you curb it?) Do these common mistakes make you want to curl up in the feeble position?

Sometimes people misspeak because they have misheard other people. Other times, phrases morph in meaning over time, and the original turn of phrase is replaced by a newer version. If you say something incorrectly, rude people will cast you off as a social leopard/leper, but your true friends will charitably assume you're joking or being self-depreciating/deprecating. The bottom line is, your true friends could (or couldn't?) care less.

Let's make one last-stitch/ditch effort to save you, me and the English-speaking world from these funny and/or painful common phrasing mistakes. Take this quiz about common English phrases to strut your stuff/stuffing!

The new coffee shop is _____ opening next month.
supposably
supposedly
In this instance, you want "supposedly" - it means something is assumed to be true, although there's no actual evidence that it's true.
supposively
supportively

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_____ care less.
I could
I couldn't
The correct phrase is "I couldn't care less" - which means, I could not care less, or I don't care at all. But when we say, "I could care less," we're really saying we actually still do care a little, so there's some wiggle room to care less.
I might
I wouldn't

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The argument that Shakespeare may not have written all his plays and poems remains, among critics, a _______.
case in point
moot point
The word "moot" is actually a legal term that dates back to the 1500s. A "moot question" is one that remains open for debate.
mute point
point well taken

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You should run for office - since the incumbent is retiring, you're a _____ for the position.
hand-in
phew-in
shoe-in
shoo-in
If you're considered a "shoo-in," you're well-liked and considered the presumptive winner of a race, contest, or election. It's been popular in horse racing throughout the years.

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Just one small bite of it was enough to _____.
dull your appetite
sap your appetite
whet your appetite
You "wet your whistle" with a drink, but you don't "wet" your appetite. With just one small bite of food, for instance, you "whet your appetite," which means you've given yourself an appetite.
wet your appetite

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If it's been 12 to 24 hours since you last ate, you can expect _____.
hunger pains
hunger pangs
Although they may get intense if you haven't eaten in quite awhile, the phrase is hunger "pangs," not "pains." They're contractions, and a single one typically lasts about 30 seconds.
hunger pants
hunger pine

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_____ of what they've done wrong, every person deserves a fair trial.
heedless
irregardless
irrespective
regardless
Although "irregardless" is commonly used, it's not actually a word. Sure, some dictionaries list it as non-standard, but that doesn't make it real. The problem is that adding the "ir" onto "regardless" forms a double negative. Stick with "regardless."

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If it's _____ you're after, try practicing mindful meditation.
peace of mind
If you're seeking "peace of mind," you're looking for ways to calm your mental anxiety and stress. Alternatively, if you're angry or frustrated, you might give someone a "piece of your mind."
piece of mind
pray of mind
proof of mind

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Her enthusiasm for the topic _____.
paint my interest
peaked my interest
peeked my interest
piqued my interest
We use "peak" to describe a mountain peak or other topmost point, while taking a "peek" is taking a quick look at something. But if you're "piqued" about something, you are intrigued by it.

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It was _____ how the cat would run along the banister.
nerve-racking
Just as you would "rack" your brain for an answer or roast a "rack" of lamb, the correct spelling is "nerve-racking." On the other hand, you're "wracked" with pain. If something is "wrecked," it's unusable or destroyed.
nerve-wracking
nerve-wrecking
wrack and ruin

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_________ causes as many as 70% of all cases of dementia.
All-timer's disease
Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that not only destroys a person's memory, but also effects other cognitive abilities and mental functions.
Golden-ager disease
Old-time disease

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This is just a preliminary concept - if you like it, it can be _____ later on.
flamed out
fleshed out
While we may "flush out" birds with the help of a retriever or spaniel, when it comes to an idea it's not so. Ideas which are incomplete or preliminary can be "fleshed out," which means you've added details and substance.
flunked out
flushed out

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Because of all the hard work they put into it, they were given a _____ of the film project.
sneak peak
sneak peek
If you're given a "sneak peek" of sometime, like a film, you're being shown a preview of it -- a teaser, a glimpse before worldwide audiences do.
sneak pique

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Because he wasn't caught or punished for his crime, he _____.
got off scot-free
This expression doesn't have anything to do with the Scots or with Scotch - but it does have a history in taxes. If you "got off scot-free," in medieval times, you got away without paying your taxes. Today, we say it to mean a person has gotten away with something, with no consequence.
got off scott-free
got off scotch free

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Missiles _____ on their targets.
hose in
horn in
hone in
home in
If you're sharpening or perfecting your skills, you're "honing" them. But things like airplanes and missiles "home" in on their target or objective.

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When military troops are gathered for inspection, each hopes to _____.
cut the mustard
pass mustard
pass muster
You can "muster" -- or gather - the troops. And you can "muster" out of military service - which means you've been discharged. But if you "pass muster," you've sufficiently met expectations. And mustard, the condiment, has nothing to do with it.

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However, he said, _____, the real ceremony would be held several months prior.
for all intensive purposes
for all intents and purposes
This actually dates all the way back to the 16th century. Under King Henry VIII, English law used the phrasing "to all intents, constructions, and purposes," which basically means, for all practical purposes.
for all intrinsic purposes
in the running

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_________, homes sales in the county have bounced back.
by and large
When you visit a warehouse club, you expect to "buy in large" -- quantities, that is. But it's the phrase, "by and large" that means "in general" or "for the most part."
by in large
buy in large
bye and large

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If you can't imagine a day without sneaking in even a little bit of reading, it's a _____ habit.
deep-cheated
deep-ceded
deep-seated
Your love to cook, your love of music, or your love of reading a good book is "deep-seated" in you - which means your love of it is a well-established part of who you are. "Deep-seeded," which is often confused with "deep-seated," is actually poor advice, since if you plant too deep you may not get seedlings.
deep-seeded

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Has anyone ever told you you're a _____ of your mother?
splitting image
spitting image
spit and image
It's a bit of a trick question because many of us often use "spitting image." But the original phrasing, which comes from biblical imagery of God creating Adam in his image, is "spit and image."
unsplit image

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We tried not to laugh at her _____ comment.
tongue and cheek
tongue-in-cheek
This figure of speech refers to putting one's tongue into one's cheek to express irony or otherwise a joke - literally, "tongue in cheek."
tongue-not-cheek
tongue-or-cheek

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He quickly figured out that the group planned to make a _____ of him.
escape goat
scapegoat
A person, or group, that's made to take the blame for something, regardless of their own innocence, is called a scapegoat.
scape-wheel
skip goat

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His manager gave him _____ over the project.
free rain
free rein
It means the freedom to do as one pleases. And because of its origins from the vocabulary of horseback riding, the correct expression is "free rein."
free reign
free ring

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Noticing she'd started to spend too much time binge-watching TV from the sofa, she decided to _____.
nip it in the buck
nip it in the bud
This idiom comes from the vocabulary of gardening and gardeners. It's used metaphorically - trimming buds before they grow means it's better to handle a problem while it's still small.
nip it in the butt
nix it in the bud

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It is feared the hurricane will _____ along the coast.
reek havoc
wreak havoc
When something like a blizzard, hurricane or other natural disaster brings about widespread destruction, it's said to wreak havoc on its target.
wreck havoc
wrought havoc

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If something _____, it means most people have stopped using it (or doing it or making it, etc.).
falls by the waist side
falls by the waste side
falls by the wayside
Basically this expression is used to describe something that's no longer happening, being done or used, or fails to continue. For instance, a favorite among the '80s mix-tape crowd, cassettes eventually fell by the wayside when CDs were introduced.
falls by the mountainside

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"Having wet hair in the cold will make you sick" is an example of an _____.
auld wise tale
old wise tale
old wives' tale
Old wives' tales are long-held superstitions that, mostly, have no scientific evidence to back up their claims. For instance, "shaving makes the hair grow back thicker" is an old wives' tale, as are many about gender prediction (if you're carrying high, it's a girl - so they say).
old men's tale

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Great minds think alike, _____.
and fools seldom differ
"Great minds think alike" is actually part of a longer quotation; "Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ." There is a variation to the expression that's also acceptable, which is: "Great minds think alike, small minds rarely differ."
and some have greatness thrust upon them
and that has made all the difference
right or wrong

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First come, _____ state parks don't accept reservations for campsites.
first choice
first serve
first served
The correct version, "first come, first served," simply means that each person will be served in the order in which they arrive. A commonly misused version of this expression, "first serve," though, doesn't mean the same thing - instead, it suggests that the first person to arrive is expected to serve those who follow.
soft serve

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It was an unspoken rule at the office: _____ or get fired from the group.
toe the line
When you "toe the line," you conform to what others - especially those in authority - expect you to do, to avoid causing trouble (or, to use another expression, "rock the boat").
tow the line
get one's feet wet
set foot somewhere

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I'll be waiting with _____, she said anxiously.
baited breath
bated breath
When you wait with "bated" breath, you're feeling anxious or excited - or even fearful - that you're almost holding your breath. If you're waiting with "baited" breath, though, then you may want to grab a mint - fishermen use "bait" to catch fish.
berated breath
donated breath

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The kids are so excited about their upcoming Disney vacation that they're _____.
chewing on the bit
champing at the bit
"Champing at the bit" is an expression that we get from horses and horseracing - specifically how some chew the bit (a mouthpiece) when they're eager or impatient. Outside the horseracing world, we use it to describe a person who is very excited or anxious.
chomping at the bit
jumping at the bit

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When you decide to try another approach, you're taking _____.
a different feedback
a different tack
"Tact," a common misuse of this expression, refers to sensitivity in social situations. The correct expression, "a different tack," comes from boating, where to "tack" means to turn abruptly in a different direction.
a different tact
a different track

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Not everyone can pull off the national anthem. _____: after her performance at the NBA All-Star Game, the singer faced backlash from the Twitterverse.
case and point
case in point
A "case in point" is a specific, illustrative example of what you've been talking about. For example: A local shopkeeper spoke to the panel about community inclusion. Case in point: he spoke of how the coffee shop's downtown location also provides jobs and training for people with disabilities.
center stage
point in case

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If that's what you think, then you've got another _____.
thing going on
thing coming
think coming
If you think that, you’ve got another think coming. Most people don't know this one, instead saying, "you've got another thing coming." However, the original version, from at least a century ago, includes the word "think."
think again

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