My workmates describe me in a lot of ways: But more recently, there seems to be consensus that I tend to be particular when it comes to use of the proper English. Or in more unkind words, that I tend to choose my words in a way synonymous with politicians. Am not a politician and don’t intend to be.

But I get irritated by carelessly written emails that seem to disregard the existence of Proper Nouns in the English language; or the fact that all modern keyboards have a space bar or its representative; and that a full stop wasn’t ever intended to act as the space bar’s alternative.

So today I’ll pick six of the words people have tended to continuously misuse, with hope that you’ll share this post with a friend that may have been guilty of any of the six offenses in the past. Keyword: past.

1. Apparently

Apparent is a word that first appeared in O’Level Physics; and for purposes of this article, a Physics example will be the best illustration for the actual meaning of the word.

Refraction, in Physics, is the phenomenon of light (or other waves) being deflected in passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another or through a medium of varying density. It’s the topic that explains why, for example, swimming pools appear shallower than they actually are. It explains that light rays are deflected once they hit the surface of the water in a swimming pool, causing it to look much shallower than it really is. It gets two depths. The real depth and the apparent depth.

A lot of people tend to use the word apparently to mean “currently“. You cannot be asked where you stay, and you say, “apparently, I stay in Ntinda”, because there is nothing apparent about where one lives – or lived, if they’re the ones speaking with no intention of sounding vague.

Something is said to be apparent if it appears as such but not necessarily so.
2. Literally

Literally is frequently used to add emphasis. The problem is literally means “actually, without exaggeration,” so, “He literally died when he saw the invoice,” cannot be true unless the customer did, in fact, pass away moments after seeing the bill.

The only time using literally makes sense is when you need to indicate what is normally a figurative expression is, this time, truly the case. Saying, “The boss literally kicked their a**es,” can only be valid if there was involvement of the bosses legs hitting their back sides.

3. Assume

To assume is to suppose to be true, especially without proof, and presume: to take for granted as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary.

If you visited a mother who had just given birth in hospital and found only one baby in the room with her, it would be presumable  that that’s her baby. But if there were two babies and two mothers in the room, you would assume  that the baby sharing the bed with your patient was her baby.

Presume can also mean “take excessive liberties”, as in the adjective form “presumptuous” [Thank you Wikipedia].

4. Successfully

Here’s the king of redundant words, often used to add a little extra oomph: “We successfully launched our new product.” Wait: in order to have launched, you have to have been successful. (Otherwise you unsuccessfully launched.)

If you create, or develop, or implement, just say you did. We know you were successful. Otherwise you wouldn’t tell us.

5. Your and You’re

While they sound the same in many dialects, in standard written English they have separate meanings. You’re is a contraction of “you are”, and your is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to you”.

“Your telling me to come back later” can only be correct if there’s something called “telling me to come back later” and it’s owned by the person you are talking to.

When in doubt, check whether the word in question can logically be expanded to “you are”.

6. Can

Can is used to indicate what is possible. May is used to indicate what is permissible. I can offer kickbacks to certain vendors, but unless I’m ethically challenged I may not.

Telling your staff, “You can not offer refunds without authorization,” sounds great but is incorrect. They certainly can even though they shouldn’t.

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