These are some of the most commonly used English phrases, but did you know that a lot of them are wrong? Whether you're spelling them wrong or they don't mean what you think they do, odds are you've been making a few mistakes.
1. "Free reign" vs. "Free rein"
"Free rein" means "unrestricted liberty of action or decision" and comes from the act of holding a horse's reins loosely so that it can move freely. "Free reign" implies someone reigning however they please, and even though it makes sense, it's actually wrong.
Correct phrase: "Free rein"
2. "Baited breath" vs. "Bated breath"
"Bated breath" was first used in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and "bated" is an abbreviation of the word "abated," which means "to lessen in severity or amount." So if you have "bated breath," it means you're holding your breath, and if you have "baited breath," it means you have bait in your breath, which would probably smell bad.
Correct phrase: "Bated breath"
3. "Spitting image" vs. "Spit and image"
4. "Hone in" vs. "Home in"
These both technically make sense, since "hone" means "refining or perfecting something." But "home in" is the one that means "finding and moving directly toward something." So you hone your skills, but you home in on a target.
Correct phrase: "Home in"
5. "Slight of hand" vs. "Sleight of hand"
This one simply comes down to a common misspelling of the word "sleight." If it makes sense to you because "slight of hand" feels like it implies a slight move in the name of deception, you're not alone! But "sleight" is literally "the use of dexterity or cunning, especially so as to deceive," so that's that on that.
Correct phrase: "Sleight of hand"
6. "On tender hooks" vs. "On tenterhooks"
7. "Shoe-in" vs. "Shoo-in"
A "shoo-in" is an easy winner, and it comes from people shooing racehorses so that they'd run faster. "Shoe-in" is just a common misspelling of this phrase.
Correct term: "Shoo-in"
8. "You've got another thing coming" vs. "You've got another think coming"
Since these two mean basically the same thing, we can say they're both right. But technically, "You've got another think coming" came first and means you're telling someone they're wrong about something and need to go have another think about it.
Correct phrase: Both! But "You've got another think coming" gets the edge because of seniority.
9. "Hunger pains" vs. "Hunger pangs"
10. "Ex-patriot" vs. "Expatriate"
These two are pretty close in meaning, with one crucial difference: An "expatriate" is just someone who lives away from their homeland, and an "ex-patriot" is someone who no longer has feelings of patriotism toward their country. A lot of people misspell the former as the latter, so if you've been doing that, it might be a good idea to stop.
Correct term: "Expatriate"
11. "Pawn off" vs. "Palm off"
They can both mean "to get rid of something," but "pawn off" comes from the definition of "pawn," while "palm off" comes from "palming," which is when you hide your cards in your hand during poker. One implies actual deception; the other one doesn't.
Correct phrase: "Palm off"
12. "Butt naked" vs. "Buck naked"
13. "Chock it up" vs. "Chalk it up"
"Chock" and "chalk" are both words, so it makes sense that this phrase confuses people. A fridge can be chock-full of vegetables, but when it comes to explaining why something happened, you'll want to go with "chalk."
Correct phrase: "Chalk it up"