Sadly, there are far more than three. You know it. I know it. Let us remove our hats, bow our heads, and have a moment of silence for all the poor words so commonly used incorrectly.
Ok. Moment of silence over.
I picked these three words because they’ve been misused so much that the false definition is commonly accepted as correct, and most people will react strangely if you use them correctly (and think you’re stupidly zealous if you correct them…).
This word means that something actually happened or could happen. It means that the words it was applied to were factually true. Sadly, many people use it paired with an exaggeration. “It took literally twelve hours to travel 1 mile.” No, no, it didn’t. And if it did, you should’ve gotten out of the car and walked.
Sadly, I think it’s probable that actual grammarians started this through the use of sarcasm and irony, but as Oscar Wilde warned us, the irony was wasted.
People say that they feel nauseous when they’re sick to their stomach, queasy, or liable to vomit. What they’re actually saying is that they feel disgusting enough to make someone else throw up. How, we don’t know (I’ve heard of colors that nauseous, but not usually people – and nauseous people aren’t usually that self-aware).
If someone feels sick, he or she should say, “I feel nauseated,” instead; however, they don’t. The wrong usage has become so common that it’s disgusting.
“Hopefully, we won’t have any trouble making our connection.” We hear this, and we know the person means that he or she hopes that they won’t have any trouble with the connecting flight (or train, I suppose). It actually means 2 things: 1. they won’t have any trouble with the connection, and 2. they’re going to make their connection in a hopeful manner – maybe, they’ll smile and spout positive idioms at people all the time like some modern-day Pollyanna. Or perhaps they’ll keep their hands clasped in front of them and make a strong display of faith.
You know what, the way we use the word is actually really confusing and hard to picture. Instead of trying to figure out how to do things in a hopeful manner, just replace “Hopefully,” with “I hope.”
Of course, if you’re writing dialogue, you’ll probably want to use these words incorrectly to make it sound more like real dialogue – unless the character is strict about grammar. That character would probably use them right. Then, you could even have a conversation between the characters about correct usage.
Just think! You could educate a generation of readers about the right way to use a word! The only problem is… which one do you pick?