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Commonly Misspelled Words in Phrases

By Judy Vorfeld

FREE REIGN OR FREE REIN? It’s “rein.” Microsoft Encarta says it’s the com­plete free­dom to make deci­sions and take action with­out con­sult­ing any­one else. The Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms says “free rein” is syn­ony­mous with “allow” and “give.” If you give peo­ple, ideas, or emo­tions free rein, they are free to develop with­out the intru­sion of con­trol­ling elements.

SNEAK PEAK, SNEEK PEEK, OR SNEAK PEEK? When you glance quickly and stealth­ily at some­thing, it’s a “sneak peek.”

NASH, KNASH, OR GNASH YOUR TEETH? You “gnash” your teeth when you are extremely angry or upset. If you have trou­ble with that, think “grind,” the start with a “g” and the “nash” should follow.

IN THE NICK, KNICK, OR GNICK OF TIME? In the “nick” of time means at the last pos­si­ble moment. A nick is (was) a mark put on a stick used to mea­sure time.


BATED BREATH OR BAITED BREATH? It’s “bated.” The Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms says, “If you wait for some­thing with bated breath, you feel very excited or anx­ious while you’re waiting.”

HEAR! HEAR! OR HERE! HERE! “Hear, hear!” is used as an excla­ma­tion to show strong approval. You use this type of a phrase when applaud­ing a dynamic speaker or fol­low­ing a writ­ten state­ment that you feel is unusu­ally fine. Some peo­ple mis­tak­enly write, “Here, here!” but if you remem­ber that it means, “Listen, lis­ten!” you’ll write it properly.


VIOLA OR VOILA? It’s only one word, but it has sev­eral totally dif­fer­ent mean­ings and pronunciations:

  1. A viola (vee-oh-lah) is a stringed instru­ment that is larger than a vio­lin and smaller than a ‘cello.

  2. A viola (vye-oh-lah) is a tiny flower.

  3. “Voila!” (vwah-lah) is an inter­jec­tion that is “used to call atten­tion, to express sat­is­fac­tion or approval, or to sug­gest an appear­ance as if by magic.”

Here’s a site with word and phrase ori­gins, and another called The Phrase Finder.


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