7 Common English Phrases that Native Speakers Get Wrong


These are the expressions that you might be using to describe a “doggy dog world” or “nipping problems in the butt”.

The idioms are the most difficult part of learning another language. These pesky figures of speech can often leave language-learners confused by references to things that are not relevant to the conversation. One example: “Under weather” It can be translated as to feel sick, but what does the weather have to do with it?

These expressions may appear to be well-known by native speakers, but do they really? Even the most skilled communicators can make mistakes in English. Here are seven common errors.

1. “It is a dog-eats-dog world,” often misunderstood as “It is a doggy-dog universe”

This expression signifies that people will use other people to achieve their goals. However, the sound of “dog-eat dog” when spoken aloud sounds almost identical to “doggy dogs”. (Read on to see how homophones, words that sound similar but have different meanings, are behind many of these mistakes. This mistake, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If I had to choose between an self-centered world or an charming one I would pick the latter!

2. “Whet Your appetite” is often misunderstood as “Wet Your appetite”.

This phrase is meant to increase your desire for something. “Whet” can also be translated as “to stimulate”. It doesn’t necessarily have to be food. A photo of the Eiffel tower could “whet your appetite” for Parisian vacation. This is because “whet”, an old English term, is rarely used in contexts other than this one. However, “wet” conjures up the image of a watery mouth. Nom nom!

3. “Sneak peek” is often mistaken for “Sneak peak”.

This is a preview of the movie or a peek behind the scenes. Perhaps it’s a chance to view a yet unreleased movie trailer. Perhaps it’s the rare chance to see a designer handbag. We’re not talking about a full mountaintop (“peak”) but a tiny glimpse. This is an error that must be corrected. It’s so tempting to spell “peak”, like “sneak,” that even those who are trained in spelling can’t resist. You’ll be amazed at the results. Next, try the “cheat sheet.”

4. Commonly mistaken for “I couldn’t care less”, “I could care less”

Imagine that your ex is now living with another person. You want to be cool with it. It is correct to say “I couldn’t care less” because you are at care-level zero, which is the ground floor. However, if you say, “I could care less”, as many people do, this means that you are still on the care elevator, and there is still much to be done.


5. “Pass mustard”, commonly misunderstood as “Pass muster”

This expression is used when something or someone doesn’t conform to an accepted standard. I don’t need to tell you that the “I wish it were Friday” t-shirt won’t pass at a corporate job interview. Not even with a blazer. “Muster” refers to the gathering of troops for inspection. If you want to pass muster you should wear a clean uniform with shiny boots. You must show up at a hotdog stand if you want to pass mustard.

6 “Nip It in the Bud” is often misunderstood as “Nip It in the Butt”.

Gardening 101: You can cut off (or “nip”) a bud if you don’t wish it to bloom. Similar to gardening, if you notice a problem, you should stop it from getting worse. It makes sense. This expression is now a dark one. This homophone issue has changed the meaning of this expression from one about pruning to one about bum biting. What are the problems that can be solved by a nip at the butt. It might be a problem for a few.

7. “You’ve got a new thought coming,” often misunderstood as “You have another thing coming.”


You read it right. It is so common that almost everyone misunderstands it, from the former US president Barack Obama to Judas Priest (who gave it the title of a song). The 19th-century original saying goes something like this: “If your think that, then you have another think coming,” meaning, if you think wrong the first time, be ready to think again. The opening clause was eventually dropped, and the rest of the sentence was made more intimidating. This is why it is used by heavy metal bands and world leaders. Is there a “thing” that you have coming? I wouldn’t stay around to find out!


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