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The 5 Most Misunderstood English Words

English can be a difficult language to learn, speak, and read. Here are the top 5 most misunderstood English words. 

1. Bemused 

The word "bemused" in English means to be mildly or somewhat amused. But many people believe it means that someone is confused or bewildered. Sometimes, it gets mistaken for meaning someone is engrossed in their own thoughts or is daydreaming. 

Here is a correct sentence with the word "bemused." 

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"The old woman was bemused at the commercial playing on television because she used to love the song they used." 

2. Infamous 

The word "infamous" is commonly thought to be synonymous with the word "famous." It is often used to describe any person, place, or thing that is popular or well-known. But this is not the actual meaning of the word. "Infamous" actually means that something or someone has a bad reputation. Even though the subject may indeed be famous, "infamous" is never used in a positive context. It’s used explicitly to denote that a person, place, or thing has a negative reputation. 

Here is a correct sentence with the word "infamous." 

"I know that man from my previous job and he’s infamous for making people feel uncomfortable with his corny jokes." 

3. Ironic 

Although many people use the word "ironic" in everyday language, this English word is actually used out of context most of the time. It is commonly believed to mean that something is coincidental or serendipitous. But this word should really only be used when there is an outcome opposite the expectation. For example, if someone expects sunshine and it rains, this would be considered ironic. 

Here is a correct sentence with the word "ironic." 

"I dressed for warm weather because I read the forecast, but it’s ironic that it’s actually freezing cold now!" 

4. Literally 

"Literally" is another word that is used frequently in the English language albeit incorrectly. Many people use the term "literally" to denote emphasis on something or in place of the words "actually" or "really." However, this is not how the word was originally designed to be used. It actually means in a literal manner, or verbatim. 

Here is a correct sentence using the word "literally." 

"My computer literally got fried during a thunderstorm, as in, an electrical current shot out from the wall and up the cord into my computer!" 

5. Travesty  

The word "travesty" sounds similar to the word "tragedy." Many people use these words interchangeably, but this is incorrect. The term "tragedy" refers to a distressing, catastrophic event. The term "travesty" means that a representation of something or someone is false or has been mischaracterized or distorted in some way. For example, you might use the word "travesty" in the context of someone mocking another person. You might use "travesty" in place of "mockery" or "parody." 

Here is a correct sentence using the word "travesty." 

"The school made an absolute travesty out of the Pride and Prejudice play with the cheap powdered wigs the cast wore."