Mistake No. 6: Not looking up familiar words

It’s easy to assume a word with which you’ve been familiar for years means exactly what you’ve always taken it to mean.

Maybe you first came across the word in a slightly ambiguous context. Maybe nobody has ever corrected you when you’ve used it. Maybe they didn’t know either. Maybe you’ve just not given it much thought.

Most people refer to dictionaries to check spellings or unfamiliar words, but looking up less unusual words can prove a fruitful exercise. Here are some examples of words I often see misused, to illustrate what I mean:

Contemporary
Does not (necessarily) mean: modern
Does mean: of the period or age in question

Electrocute
Does not mean: receive or give an electric shock
Does mean: kill through an electric shock

Enormity
Does not mean: largeness, massiveness, scale
Does mean: evil, something monstrous, wicked

Infer
Does not mean: imply, hint at
Does mean: deduce from evidence

Random
Does not mean: unusual
Does mean: by chance / without choice

Refute
Does not mean: deny
Does mean: show to be false / disprove

Consulting – and browsing through – a dictionary can boost your word power. Do it. And let me know what you learn.

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