Language is constantly changing. Words used for hundreds of years can have different meanings today than they did in past centuries. Take, for example, the pendejo meaning in Spanish culture. Originally people used the word in Spain to describe young teenagers who were trying to act like adults.

By the 17th century, pendejo’s meaning had changed to an insult to call someone a coward. Today, pendejo has become an even stronger insult, and many people consider it an offensive way to call someone stupid or worse. In this case, you definitely need to keep up with how the meaning of words can shift over time!

Word usage represents another way in which language is constantly changing. Some words that were commonplace a hundred years ago are never uttered anymore. On the other hand, some words that were rarely said in the past have become overused. In this article, we’ll look at five commonly used words and how to replace them.


1. Literally

Literally, this might be one of the most overused words in the English language. What makes its usage worse is that it is often used incorrectly. By definition, literally means “in a real sense” or exactly. Nowadays, people tend to use this word to emphasize a point.

For example, someone might say they “have literally never seen that many people in one place before” when they are telling a story about how far the grocery store checkout line was backed up. Clearly, if they have been to any kind of sporting event in their life, they have actually seen more people in one place before. This usage has become so common that some dictionaries include the informal application as an added entry.

Regardless of where you stand on its acceptable usage, you’ll likely admit this has become an incredibly common word. If you want to avoid overusing it yourself, consider how you are saying it. Is the word necessary in your sentence? If it isn’t adding anything to the story or context, simply eliminate it and don’t try to replace it with another word.

2. Perfect

Perfect is another word that can be misapplied when someone is trying to intensify their statement. In its purest form, perfect means there is not a single better alternative to whatever is being described. When people use this word today, rarely is that the case. Nonetheless, if perfect is a word you catch yourself using too much, there are some ways to change up your vocabulary. You might consider similar words like ideal, optimal, or flawless. 

3. Outside of the Box

This has become a clich√© people rely on when they are describing anything that is different. Although used accurately in most cases, it has become far too common because many people haven’t considered other ways to explain the same thing. If you are one of them, try adjectives such as unusual, different, or creative. Frankly, there are many adjectives that can be used in place of this, but the context will change which word is the optimal replacement.

4. Basically

This word is so common that many people say it subconsciously, almost like a verbal pause. You might hear someone say, “I was basically unsure of what they meant,” or “You basically could have done that yesterday.” Similar to “literally,” many times you can eliminate the word and not affect the flow or meaning of your statement. However, if you are looking for replacements for this word, consider essentially, practically, or mostly. Again, context will have a significant impact on what is the ideal substitution.

5. Unique

When something stands out from the crowd, it is said to be unique. This word has become commonly used to describe anything that is different. In its truest meaning, unique refers to something that is one of a kind or irreplicable.

If you are using this word too often, you can opt for more general adjectives like different, unusual, or special. If something truly is unique, you could refer to it as “a unicorn,” although this has become a highly common term in the business world.


In our ever-evolving language, words can change meaning along with usage patterns. There is a long list of commonly-used English words, but these five are near the top. These words made the cut not just because of their frequency but also because they are often used in a way different from their original intent. If you notice yourself saying these words more often than you prefer, these alternatives will make you stand out when you use them instead during your next conversation.

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