The tweed jacket nerds of the world have a point if they are finding grammar errors in published work. Significant errors turn into red flags that distract readers from the message. Readers may judge an entire work on the grammar. They may also judge the messenger and form a lasting opinion on the writer’s skill and intelligence and this can reflect on your entire organization.
The time to be concerned about grammar is when you edit. Scrubbing out grammar mistakes puts a shine and polish on your finished work.
A number of writers and bloggers have put together lists of common grammar errors that they see routinely. Some of these errors are made by professional writers all the time. In fact, the more you write the bigger chance you have of making mistakes especially if you are working to deadline and self-editing.
See below for tips to avoid common grammar mistakes we have all made. There are also tips on writing style to help you deliver your message in the most effective way possible.
You will also find links to a few great sources that are helpful when you are proof reading final copy and double-checking when something doesn’t sound quite right.
Other gestures that add professionalism are actions such as saying thanks for coverage, acknowledging contributions by volunteers, donors, participants and others, following up and being responsive to questions or concerns.
Writing style tips:
Use simple language in a conversational tone. Easy trick: read what you wrote out loud to ensure it sounds authentic.
Avoid jargon, technical phrases and acronymns.
Use active, not passive language. Don’t say: “Enhanced economic development opportunities through increasing the tourism base will be the outcome of our project.” Say: “We are creating new opportunities for local business and attracting more tourists.”
Common Grammar Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Affect, effect and impact
"Affect" is a verb. When you take an action that causes an "effect" (a noun) you have “affected” it. Verbs are actions so a simple trick is to remember the "a" in "affect" and "action". Example: Those ideas had a great effect on me. Those ideas affected me greatly.
In business writing, you may see "impact" used incorrectly as a verb when the writer really wants to say “affect” such as: “The company’s marketing strategy has positively impacted the bottom line".
Alot, A lot and Allot
When you have a great number of things you have “a lot”. Alot is not a word (and your spellchecker should catch it). Allot means to proportion, or set aside. Example: She allotted a lot of money for her travel budget.
Bring and Take
You bring things toward you and take things away. It depends of the point from which you are writing. Your boss asks “please bring that report to me” and you respond “yes boss I will take that report to your office”.
It gets a little confusing if you are considering an event in the future. Here’s a scenario: Ann calls Bob to invite him to a dinner party and says “bring a friend”. Bob calls Mary and asks “May I take you to Ann’s party?” The day before the party Bob calls Ann and asks “should I bring wine”? Bob is focusing on the party so he will bring wine to it. Later, when he realizes he has no wine at home he says “I can’t find any wine to take to the party, I will have to buy some”.
Different from or Different than?
When you are comparing something and use adjectives like “better” or “colder” you use “than”, for example better than, colder than. The word “different” is used to show distinction so you use “different from”. Example: Living on Vancouver Island is very different from living in Toronto. Winters in Toronto are much colder than winters on Vancouver Island.
Farther and Further
Further is often used incorrectly in place of farther. When you have a distance you can measure, use “farther”. Use “further” if the length or distance can’t be measured. Example: I walked the dog 2 km farther today than yesterday. Smoking can cause further complications after surgery.
Fewer and Less
Use “fewer” for real numbers and quantities and “less than” when the the quantity is not specific. Example: I drink fewer than three cups of coffee a day. My caffeine tolerance is less than your’s. On an interesting note, a similar ruled used to apply to “more than” and “over” but the American Press Style Guide now recognizes these as interchangeable.
i.e. vs. e.g.
Use "i.e." as a short form for "that is" or "in other words" and use "e.g." as short for "example given" or "for example."
Its vs. It’s
It’s amazing how often this confuses writers. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” and “its” is possessive. Example: It’s very entertaining to watch a kitten playing with its toy. Fortunately, word processing programs usually catch this.
Irregardless and unthaw
These are not words. Use "regardless" and "thaw".
Lay and Lie
This is tough one for many people. A good trick is to try the word “place” or “put” where you would use “lay”. If it doesn’t work, use “lie”. What makes it confusing is that the past tense of “lay” is “laid” and the past tense of “lie” is “lay”. Examples: I feel sleepy, I need to lie down. Yesterday I lay on the bed after work for an hour. I will lay my book on the table and go straight to bed.
Me, Myself and I
This is well understood until you need to write a sentence with yourself and another group. Always I at the beginning of a sentence: I went to the beach, or Jane and I went to the beach. Don’t say: John came to the beach with Jane and I (because you wouldn’t say: John came to the beach with I. Correct: John came to the beach with Jane and me. “Myself” is used if “I” or “me” would sound awkward. Saying "Jane and myself will be going to the beach" doesn’t sound right. You can say “I am going to the beach by myself”.
Principle and principal
A "principle" is moral rule or belief while a "principal" presides over a school, or is first in rank. To help remember, Journey Middle School principal Mrs. S likes to say “a principal is your pal”.
Since and Because
“Since” refers to time that has passed and “because” refers to a cause of something. e.g., Since we launched the new web site in June we have had more than 500 visits. Because we have a new web site, more people know about our work.
They're, Their and There
We all know this but our brains sometimes trick us into writing the wrong version. “They’re” is a contraction for "they are", “their” refers to ownership by a group and “there” is a place.
Whether and If
“Whether” is used when there are two or more alternatives and “if” is used where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether to choose a red or green hat. I will pick the red if it matches my shoes.
Your and You're
If something is “your’s” you own it and “you’re” refers to something “you are” e.g., You’re going to the beach to work on your tan?
Overuse of apostrophes
Use apostrophes for possession or letters missing. Examples: "Bill's roses", “our organization’s goals” and “the Smiths’ goat”. Use "it's" for "it is". Don’t use when referring to a family group in general e.g. “the Smith’s” use “the Smiths”. Years don’t need apostrophes either: 1990s is correct (not 1990’s).
Example: “Someone call the Smiths about their goat, it’s eating Bill’s roses!).
Overuse of exclamation points
If you have written something with exclamation points, take them all out and re-read. They are likely not necessary, unless the statement is suited to drama and excitement (see the example above). “It’s our annual race! Get your tickets today!” doesn’t need to be exclaimed.
Useful links for more information on grammar and style: