- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2021

Most Americans get annoyed by misused words or phrases and think it’s OK to correct someone’s pronunciation without being asked, according to a recent survey of common English mistakes.

Sixty-six percent of 2,000 native English speakers said it was “OK to correct someone, even if they weren’t asked to do so,” an online survey by the learning app Preply found. The Oct. 2-14 survey, which was conducted on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, also found that 87% had at some point challenged someone’s pronunciation.

Preply campaigns manager Daniele Saccardi said it was significant that 80% of respondents reported getting annoyed when they hear common words and phrases mispronounced, especially in social situations.

“When it comes to correcting pronunciation, I think there is a fine line between being helpful and being rude,” Mr. Saccardi told The Washington Times.

“Consider your tone and whether you may be embarrassing that person before correcting them. If you come across as sincere and helpful with your advice, that person may be more likely to make that correction moving forward as opposed to being offended and embarrassed,” he added.

Preply’s survey found the most commonly misused phrase is “I could care less,” which people often use instead of the intended “I couldn’t care less” to indicate a lack of concern. The most annoying misused word is “irregardless,” a mistaken form of “regardless.”

The survey found that 44% of Americans have mispronounced a phrase for more than a year before finding out it was wrong.

According to Dictionary.com, it’s easy for people to misuse words with a similar spelling. In an article on “10 Commonly Misused Words,” the website gives the example of “proscribe” and “prescribe.”

“Sometimes proscribe is used as a replacement for prescribe … But proscribe means to banish, forbid or condemn,” the website states.

The Preply survey found that people tend to correct family and friends more often than strangers. Preply reported that 1 in 5 Americans had corrected a stranger. And millennials proved likeliest overall to correct someone else’s words.

Trainers at Etiquette Etiquette, a business consulting firm in Forest Heights, Maryland, cautioned that it’s better to correct people in private than in public.

“It’s embarrassing and insulting to be corrected in front of others,” said Karene A. Putney, an etiquette trainer who founded the company.

Ms. Putney, a 2019 graduate of the Protocol School in Washington, D.C., said it’s important to offer “positive criticism” only in private and to people who ask for it.

“I would say please don’t take this personally, but I would like to correct how you use or pronounce this word so others don’t misunderstand you,” Ms. Putney said.

Sometimes people have a speech impediment, and other times there are cultural differences to consider, she added.

“Mind your manners and put yourself in that person’s shoes,” she said. “I think that’s proper manners, to be considerate of others’ feelings.”

Her husband and business partner Lee Putney, who trains businessmen in sales etiquette, said it’s a “definite no-no” to correct people’s pronunciation or words in public.

“You can tell by their lack of confidence that most people know they’re using a word incorrectly, and they can correct themselves,” Mr. Putney said.

If it seems a close friend or family member isn’t aware of how others perceive things, it’s acceptable to correct that person indirectly in private, he said.

“I would ask the person to repeat what they said and say I think that word meant something else,” Mr. Putney said.

Austin Freeman, an English teacher at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, said he never corrects anyone’s word usage outside of the “strict academic setting” of a classroom.

“Typically students are composing words academically, which includes a set of agreed-upon guidelines,” Mr. Freeman said. “I think it’s wrong to correct others’ grammar outside of the classroom because it presupposes that we all have the same set of standards.”

David O’Neil, an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern Indiana, said it’s important to separate objective mistakes from word usages that have become accepted variations, like the use of “they” as a singular pronoun referring to one person.

“On one hand, it really is a mistake when someone says ‘I could care less’ when they mean that they care as little as possible. But other ‘errors’ from Preply’s survey are just examples of legitimate variation,” Mr. O’Neil told The Times.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Mr. Daniele Saccardi and Mr. Austin Freeman.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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