You’ve probably seen the Internet memes centered on the theme “Punctuation Saves Lives.” One of my favorites has the words “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma” surrounding a picture of a traditional sweet, old granny.
While a missing comma may not actually cause the death of someone near and dear to you, you may kill your business reputation with frequent grammar or usage mistakes in your communications. No matter what industry you are in, you are accustomed to answering emails, sending texts, updating posts, writing blogs and making social media comments. We are writing more than we ever have, and that’s a good thing.
The problem is that some of the same dumb errors Americans have always made in their writing can become glaring when they are posted for all to see. No matter how good your ideas are and no matter how well you express them, some people just won’t take you seriously when you make mistakes an average fifth grader wouldn’t make.
List of grammar mistakes you need to stop making
Here is our list of the top 10 grammar and usage mistakes you need to stop making:
1. Affect and effect. An easy way to know which one to use is to realize that “affect” means “to change” or “to influence.” An effect is the result of something.
The West Coast is affected by a severe drought.
One effect of the drought conditions is the heightened threat of wildfires.
2. Their, they’re and there. Even though elementary school teachers do their best to pound the differences between these three words into their students’ heads, errors in their usage are very common. “There” is a place. “Their” indicates possession. “They’re” is the contraction for “they are.”
I placed your mail there on your desk.
Their marketing team members are all under the age of 25.
I guess they’re not looking for any new business right now.
3. Irregardless. Many grammar police officers will tell you “irregardless” is not a word. Well, it is a word, but it is not a good one. It has been added to dictionaries as an ‘unpreferred’ alternative to “regardless” since so many people use it in their speech, but it is always better to use “regardless” instead.
Regardless of what you have heard, “irregardless” makes you sound silly.
4. Your and you’re. Mistakes with these two words are rampant on social media sites and emails. Here’s what you need to remember: “You’re” is the contraction for “you are.” “Your” is the possessive form of you.
Your business idea is a good one, but you will need a group of investors to get started.
You’re going to change the voicemail message to let people know about the new office hours, aren’t you?
5. Its and It’s. Ugh, this one is tricky, since we are used to using an apostrophe to show possession. Use “its” to show something belonging to “it.” Use “it’s” as the contraction for “it is.”
The company softball team won its first game in three seasons.
“It’s so cold in here,” moaned the new receptionist. “Would you turndown the air conditioning?”
6. Fewer and less. This mistake comes up in a lot of company end-of-the-year reports. The words are indeed similar, but they have different usages. Use “less” when you are referring to quantity and use “fewer” when you are referring to a specific number.
That restaurant chain has fewer than 1,000 employees.
I usually get less sleep in the summer.
7. Lose and Loose. I find it surprising, since one is an adjective, and the other is a verb, but many people mixup “loose” and “lose” in their writing. Here’s the information you need to remember. “Lose” is a verb that means to “suffer the loss of” or “to miss.” “Loose” is an adjective that means the opposite of tight or the opposite of contained.
Did you lose your car keys again?
A big dog without a collar was running loose in the neighborhood this morning.
8. The Dangling Participle. These errors can be funny, but they can get you in trouble if you are not careful. Make sure your descriptive phrases are describing who or what you want them to describe. Here is a correct example:
Sitting on the park bench on my lunch break, I was distracted by the kids playing nearby.
A phrase that starts with “sitting” describes the subject “I.”
Now here is a dangler:
Sitting on the park bench, the kids playing nearby distracted me.
The kids were not sitting on a park bench were they? You often can catch a dangling participle by reading over your written work out loud.
9. I and Me. This error is a pet peeve of mine, and I have my high school English teacher, Miss Brinkley, to thank for it. “I” is always the first person subject even when others are involved:
I asked a question at the staff meeting.
The new HR manager and I asked questions at the staff meeting. (not The New HR manager and me asked questions at the staff meeting.)
When you are deciding whether to use “I” or “me” in a sentence, take the other name or names out of it temporarily. Whatever word is correct without the other nouns is still correct with them.
“Jennifer and I went out to lunch” is correct because “I went out to lunch is correct.” “Jennifer and me went out to lunch” is incorrect because “Me went out to lunch” is incorrect.
10. Lie and Lay: Chickens lay; people lie. That sounds simple enough, but our language is never simple. Just ask Eric Clapton (Lay Down Sally) or Bob Dylan (Lay, Lady, Lay). Here’s another way to look at it: The word “lay” needs an object. You can lay an object down, but people lie down by themselves. Therefore, it is incorrect to say “I am going to lay down.” Instead, say I am going to lie down.
Your words make an impression. What you say in your written business communications reveal your professionalism and your intelligence. Business owners think so too. A 2012 survey by The Society for Human Resource Management found that 45 percent of 430 employers said they were increasing their training programs to improve employees’ grammar and other written skills. It’s not too late to get it right.