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Words That Can Make You Sound Smarter

As online marketers, we are required to be publishers and content creators, but how many of us have writing skills that are strong enough for us to be confident about our use of grammar and ambiguous words? I have to work very hard at writing, as I am a long way from having an expert grasp (does one ever?) and, admittedly, my spelling and grammar are not where I want them to be; I still have to double check my spelling over and over again (spell check is a miracle), think hard about when to use who or whom and when to use a semicolon.

words to make you sound smarter

In the film Vicky Christina Barcelona, there is a wonderful scene with Juan (Javier Bardem) and Vicky (Rebecca Hall) where they visit his father. Juan’s father only speaks Spanish and refuses to learn any other language because he’s a poet and he feels that if he speaks another language, it will dilute his work. I have always been an avid reader and find the nuances of the English language, especially the wit and humour of puns and the elegant cadence that the right selection of words can deliver, a beautiful thing. So I am now dedicating more of my time to learning the foundation of the language and its technicalities in the pursuit of eking out the best in my writing.

By improving your writing skills you can impact many areas of your life. Even taking a few extra minutes when writing emails will ensure a less ambiguous meaning (I can’t count the number of times that a misread email has caused problems for me) and project a much improved image of ourselves within business. Honestly, how do you react to the person who sends you a poorly-worded email?

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. Blaise Pascal

Learning new words every day and expanding your vocabulary will positively affect your communication skills and, in turn, enhance others’ perception of you. The aim is not to be a sesquipedalian such as Russell Brand it’s about being able to deliver a message as clearly and simply as possible ? and this is essential in marketing. Words sell and the right headline makes all the difference.

puns from The Economist

A few of my favourite puns from The Economist

I run a ‘word of the day’ through @Creativity101. You can also follow these ‘word of the day’ twitter accounts as a start to cultivating your vocabulary:


The written word is a powerful tool ? but like all tools, it’s only as powerful as its master. Writing is very technical and the misplacement of a mere apostrophe or comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

words to make you sound smarter

Several years ago, I was at a wedding in Harrogate. I was well-presented and feeling elegant in my Harvey Nichols dress and enjoying a glass of champagne; I chatted to a man who was attempting to break the world water speed record on Lake Coniston in the footsteps of Donald Campbell (true story). It wasn’t until later that someone told me the correct pronunciation for hyperbole was high-per-bowl-ee and not high-per-bowl. I realised?with horror?that this former writer/journalist-turned-daredevil had, diplomatically, chosen to overlook my naive error; at that point, realising I had looked a fool, the impact and importance of having a better grasp of language hit me full on.

Being able to effectively deliver the right word in the right context can be devastating or, literally, devastating, if you get it wrong. With solid command of language, your confidence will increase in both your written content and your verbal communication in meetings and presentations.

Commonly confused nouns/verbs:

advice/advise: I would advise you to take my advice

the doctor would practise using his poker face in his medical practice

if only I could devise a way to use this useful device

licence/license: If only she would give me license to buy a marriage licence

Common misunderstandings over one word or two?

alot – is not a word
a lot – not a lot of people know alot is not a word
allot – I will allot my time to doing not a lot

Altogether, it’s a hundred miles to Googleplex
All together as a group, we walked a hundred miles to Googleplex

Anyone here want to work for Google?
Any one of you here can work for Google

We will always have Google
All ways lead to Google

My everyday life involves Google
Every day, I strive to be without Google

Everyone has their own Google story
Every one of you can tell me their Google story

The most commonly misused words – get them right to look smarter

There are many references online to grammar, spelling and word usage, but I found many contradictory or misleading. Therefore, all my references for this article were taken from the New Oxford Dictionary of English, Longman’s Guide to English Usage, My Grammar and I and Usage & Abusage Penguin Reference Guide – all print version books and highly recommended.

To abuse means to treat someone badly: he abused the goodwill of his readers by posting pictures of kittens
To misuse means to use something in the wrong way: he misused the website by posting pictures of kittens
To disabuse – is to persuade that an idea is mistaken: he was disabused of his belief that his website was for posting pictures of kittens

Acute means severe or intense, but of short duration, sharp, highly developed or shrewd insight: Panda delivered an acute problem for SEO
Chronic means long-lasting, constantly recurring or bad habit: Google is a chronic problem for SEO

Adverse means unfavourable or harmful relating to conditions not people: Google creates adverse conditions for SEOs
Averse means having a strong dislike or opposition to something, usually relating to people: SEOs are generally averse to Google

Allude means to suggest, call attention to indirectly or hint at: Google alludes to what is contained within its algorithm
Elude means to avoid or escape danger or avoid compliance with (law): SEOs constantly try to elude Google penalties

affect/effect (probably one of the most misused pair of words)
Affect – the verb – means make a difference to: the poorly designed ‘buy it now’ button affected me so much that it made me want to tear my hair out
Affect – the noun – can have a technical meaning in the field of psychology, but is not used much outside
Effect – the noun – means a result: we got the effect we wanted by changing the colour of the ‘buy it now’ button
Effect – the verb – means to bring about a result: by changing the colour of the ‘buy it now’ button, we effected uplift in the conversion rate

You affect something by having an effect on it

Assume means to suppose without proof or to seize power: I assume that Google’s wish is to assume the entire internet
Presume means to take for granted or to suppose on the basis of it being probability: I presume that Google has high profit margins

Assure means to tell positively to dispel doubt or to make certain to happen: I can assure you that Google assured us they would ‘Do no Evil’
Ensure means to make certain something will happen: Google ensure that their priority is to make lots of money

Compliment means to offer/give praise or a gift: my compliments on your picture of a kitten
Complement means two things that benefit each other: the picture of a kitten was the perfect complement to my website

Disburse means to give out (money): Google has disbursed all its profits to charity
Disperse means to distribute over a wide area: Google threw sacks of money in the Grand Canyon where it dispersed through the valley

Discreet is to not draw attention or to be confidential: we were discreet with our investigation of the departments at Googleplex
Discrete means individually separate and distinct: Google is a discrete collection of departments within Googleplex

e.g./i.e. (one of my personal favourites)
e.g. (exempli gratia) means for example and can be an infinite list: Google had many employees e.g. Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer
i.e. (id est) means that is or in other words and is used as an example to qualify a statement. It must be a finite list: I had to name the founders of Google i.e. Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Modern English usage favours the use of further, but the two do have subtle differences.
Farther means at a greater physical distance: what is the farthest point from Google?
Further means of a greater figurative/abstract distance and is the more commonly used word: I cannot tolerate Google any further

Imply means to suggest indirectly (by the person speaking): Google implied that they would reward sites posting pictures of kittens
Infer means to draw a conclusion (by the person listening): I inferred that if I posted pictures of kittens, Google would reward my site

Loath means reluctant and unwilling: I was loath to look at any more pictures of kittens that day
Loathe means to hate: after being subjected to them for hours, I now loathe pictures of kittens

Me is an objective pronoun used as the object of the verb: Google kept showing pictures of kittens to me
Myself is a reflexive pronoun used to refer back to the subject and should only be used when both the subject and the object of the verb are the speaker (I): I couldn’t look at another picture of a kitten and stop myself from screaming
I is a subjective pronoun used as the subject of the verb: I am weary of looking at pictures of kittens

Me or I?
Get this right by removing the other person from the sentence and pretending it only says me or I – whichever would be correct in that circumstance is the one it should be for a sentence involving another person.
Bunny and I clicked on the link to the website
He sent a link from the website to Bunny and me

The subject of much debate, with modern English mainly favouring the use of who but if you want to be proper in your English language usage, the following is the correct grammatical rule:
Who is used as the subject of the verb: who made the decision to make Google the law?
Whom is used as the object of the verb and after a preposition:
Whom do you think we should credit for making Google the law?
To whom should we address the Google law?

I hope this article is a useful reference guide to you and please let me know if you have your own favourite misuse of word or grammar in the comments below.



Shelli Walsh is a creative consultant for digital marketing under the brand name ShellShock. Shelli has 18 years professional creative, marketing and business experience and uses this expertise to help brands spread their message online through creative content strategies.
  • One blog said when someone constantly uses the filler word “like,” you probably think they don’t sound so smart. I’ve felt a sudden guilt. LOL! I ain’t that smart so I have to admit. In business, we need to look and talk smart.

    The post just shared common errors and examples about commonly misused words. It is like an English lesson for all of us. I enjoyed it a lot! 🙂

    Thanks for the lesson!

    I must say, not all will understand you if you do so, so it’s still good to consider this quote ” If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

    I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the Internet marketing social networking site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

  • Ann07

    I guess every online marketer has already known the importance of their writing skills, since they are required to be content creators.

    As what I’ve read from the article above, improving your writing skills can impact many aspects of your life.

    In improving your writing skills, perhaps it may expand your vocabulary, develop your grammar usage, and make your communication skills better.

    If you want to level up your writing skills, you should exercise reading and just keep on writing. Thanks for mentioning such words, which we often misuse.

    I’ve indeed learned a lot from reading the entire content. 🙂


    By the way, I found this post shared on Kingged.com