Can You Identify These Commonly Misused Phrases?


By: Maria Trimarchi

6 Min Quiz

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.

In this instance, you want "supposedly" - it means something is assumed to be true, although there's no actual evidence that it's true.


_____ care less.

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.


The argument that Shakespeare may not have written all his plays and poems remains, among critics, a _______.

The word "moot" is actually a legal term that dates back to the 1500s. A "moot question" is one that remains open for debate.


You should run for office - since the incumbent is retiring, you're a _____ for the position.

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.


Just one small bite of it was enough to _____.

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.


If it's been 12 to 24 hours since you last ate, you can expect _____.

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.


_____ of what they've done wrong, every person deserves a fair trial.

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."


If it's _____ you're after, try practicing mindful meditation.

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."


Her enthusiasm for the topic _____.

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.


It was _____ how the cat would run along the banister.

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.


_________ causes as many as 70% of all cases of dementia.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that not only destroys a person's memory, but also effects other cognitive abilities and mental functions.


This is just a preliminary concept - if you like it, it can be _____ later on.

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.


Because of all the hard work they put into it, they were given a _____ of the film project.

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.


Because he wasn't caught or punished for his crime, he _____.

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.


Missiles _____ on their targets.

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.


When military troops are gathered for inspection, each hopes to _____.

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.


However, he said, _____, the real ceremony would be held several months prior.

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.


_________, homes sales in the county have bounced back.

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."


If you can't imagine a day without sneaking in even a little bit of reading, it's a _____ habit.

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.


Has anyone ever told you you're a _____ of your mother?

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."


We tried not to laugh at her _____ comment.

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."


He quickly figured out that the group planned to make a _____ of him.

A person, or group, that's made to take the blame for something, regardless of their own innocence, is called a scapegoat.


His manager gave him _____ over the project.

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."


Noticing she'd started to spend too much time binge-watching TV from the sofa, she decided to _____.

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.


It is feared the hurricane will _____ along the coast.

When something like a blizzard, hurricane or other natural disaster brings about widespread destruction, it's said to wreak havoc on its target.


If something _____, it means most people have stopped using it (or doing it or making it, etc.).

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.


"Having wet hair in the cold will make you sick" is an example of an _____.

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).


Great minds think alike, _____.

"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."


First come, _____ state parks don't accept reservations for campsites.

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.


It was an unspoken rule at the office: _____ or get fired from the group.

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").


I'll be waiting with _____, she said anxiously.

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.


The kids are so excited about their upcoming Disney vacation that they're _____.

"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.


When you decide to try another approach, you're taking _____.

"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.


Not everyone can pull off the national anthem. _____: after her performance at the NBA All-Star Game, the singer faced backlash from the Twitterverse.

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.


If that's what you think, then you've got another _____.

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."


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