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Deepti Menon


A blog series exploring the etymology of some interesting words

Beware of the Pitfalls in English



Have you had moments when, you are engrossed in reading a wonderful article, or listening to an eloquent speaker, and suddenly, one word jars you out of your serenity? If so, please do join the gang!

Some words are like faithful spouses; they cannot be married to anyone else.







  1. Have you ever returned back to a place you have always loved? Have you been naughty, replying/ answering back to your mother? Does a hypnotist help you to regress back to your past? The word ‘back’ is the intrusive villain, for you do not need it in these examples. The reason is that ‘return’ means ‘to go back’, ‘reply’ and ‘answer’ refer to ‘talking back’ and ‘regress’ conveys the sense of  ‘moving/slipping back’.



  1. Certain words have different meanings when used in their varied forms. For example,

“I am bored because today is a rainy day,” does not indicate that “I am boring on a rainy day.”

“If you are bored on a rainy day, you are a boring person.” The two cannot be interchanged. Similarly,

“I am scared of the dark,” as opposed to “I am scary in the dark.” One means that you are a scaredy-cat, the other that you are some kind of bogey man.



  1. Verbs like ‘propose’, ‘explain’ and ‘listen’ are sometimes used wrongly, especially in modern-day romances written by aspiring writers. For example,

“I am going to propose her” or, “If you had listened me, you would not have broken your leg.”

In both cases, the word ‘to’ needs to be added to the sentences for them to make sense grammatically. Hence, ‘propose to,’ and ‘listened to’ would be music to the ears. The word ‘tell/told’ also needs an object after it. For example,

“The ruler told him that he would give him a bag filled with gold coins.” The word ‘him’ is the object here.



  1.  Certain collective nouns stand alone. For example,

“Could you give me an important information?” could be better written as “Could you give me some important information?” Likewise, the plural of ‘information’ remains the same. So don’t be caught asking for ‘informations’,  ‘advices’, ‘furnitures’ or ‘luggages’. Also, an artist never paints ‘sceneries’; he has an eye for ‘scenery’.



  1. Two negatives do make a positive in English. For example,

“The bewildered student didn’t say nothing.” This means that he did say something.

“You ain’t heard nothing yet, folks!” (Al Jolson in ‘The Jazz Singer’)

Here, he wanted to suggest that there was plenty more to be seen and heard.



  1. We had an English teacher in school who made sure that she added on nuggets of wisdom to our growing vocabulary. Once she asked a truant student where he had been. Prompt came the reply, “Ma’am, I and Aditya were in the Principal’s office,” to which she replied as promptly, “Put the donkey last!” We were all in splits, but a rule had been learnt that day. “Aditya and I were in the Principal’s office.”



  1. Many speakers tend to mix up the words ‘lose’ and ‘loose’. The former is a verb that means ‘to be unable to find, or fail to win’. The past tense is ‘lost’.

“Hopefully, the Indian Cricket team will not lose their next one-day match.”

The word ‘loose’ is an adjective meaning ‘not fixed in place, not fitting in tightly, unfettered’.

“The girl had lost so much of weight that her clothes hung loose on her frame.”



  1. Two other words which are often interchanged are ‘lie’ and ‘lay’. For example,

“The doctor asked his patient to lie on the bed.” This means that he asked him to place himself on the bed. There is no direct object here.

“The judge ordered the lawyer to lay the papers on his table.” Here, he wanted him to keep the book on his table. The book is the direct object.

The two words are not interchangeable.

After all, didn’t someone say, “Every time you make a typo, an errorist wins.”



Deepti Menon ia an editor and author based in Chennai. She has written two books, Arms and the Woman and Shadow in the MirrorMany of her short stories can be found within the pages of popular anthologies like 21 Tales to TellChronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango ChutneyCrossed and Knotted (India's first composite novel that has found a place in the Limca Book of Records), Rudraksha, Upper CutDefiant DreamsWhen They Spoke, and many others.