7 commonly misused phrases in English, from ‘hunger pangs’ to ‘wreak havoc’

  • English is a strange language, with many weird phrases and unusual grammar rules to follow, so we can’t blame you for getting confused
  • Whatever you do, don’t nip something in the butt - you will probably get in trouble
Doris Wai |

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English is a weird language, and we can’t blame you for getting confused by certain words or phrases. Photo: Shutterstock

The English language can be really tricky, with a frustrating number of phrases to master, not to mention the 1,001 grammar rules to follow. From telling someone they “peek your interest” to “nipping something in the butt”, here are seven commonly misused phrases people usually say wrong.

Old school English words to throw shade without people knowing

Correct: pique my interest
Misused: peek my interest

It’s easy to confuse the two because “qu” is pronounced as “k”. While the verb “pique” means to annoy someone, most of us are probably more familiar with the phrase “pique my interest,” which means something that excites you. A “peek” is a quick look and if you’re interested in something, that’s probably the last thing you would do.

20 commonly mispronounced words in English

Correct: hunger pangs
Misused: hunger pains

“Hunger pains” sounds about right if you’ve had to go without food for days. That said, a doctor will be quick to point out that “pang” is the medical term for feelings of discomfort or cramping due to hunger. Because the word is rarely used in other context and it sounds so similar to “pain”, they are often mixed up.

It all feels the same when you’re waiting for dinner. Photo: Shutterstock

Correct: wreak havoc
Misused: wreck havoc

It’s probably easier to tell these two phrases apart once you know the meaning of every word. “Wreak” refers to causing something to happen in a violent and uncontrolled way; “havoc” is another word for destruction; and “wreck” means to destroy. To “wreak havoc” means to cause great destruction, while “wreck havoc” means to destroy damage, which is probably the opposite of what you meant to say.

Old school ways to tell your crush you like them

Correct: nipped in the bud
Misused: nipped in the butt

When you “nip something”, you’re actually giving it a painful bite or pinching it. With that in mind, nipping something in the butt can get you in a lot of trouble. The phrase “nipping something in the bud” is a reference to gardening – a flower that is “nipped in the bud” stops growing. This phrase means to take care of a problem before it becomes serious.

Don’t have the right words in English? These foreign expressions may help

Correct: first come, first served
Misused: first come, first serve

This phrase is commonly used to describe how the first customers to arrive at a restaurant get to order their food before the others. Without the “d” at the end of “serve,” it means that they have to take everyone else’s orders instead.

Come again? Photo: Shutterstock

Correct: You’ve got another think coming.
Misused: You’ve got another thing coming.

Here is yet another reason to be annoyed with the English language because the misused version just makes so much more sense. The original phrase is, “If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming,” and it is used to tell someone that they’re wrong and should think about changing their mind. But as the first clause has been dropped over time, perhaps it’s time to have a think about changing it to thing!

Common English mistakes we hear all the time

Correct: I made a complete 180 degree change in my life.
Misused: I made a complete 360 degree change in my life.

This requires a little calculation to figure out the correct phrase, which means someone has made a drastic change in their life and they are completely different to how they were in the past. A “180 degree change” indicates that you are the now exact opposite of who you used to be, while a “360 degree change” simply means you are back to the same place you started out – which means you haven’t changed at all.

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