Did you know that bad grammar can ruin a good message?
You could be missing opportunities to get your point across because your readers have to wade through awkward sentences that set their teeth on edge.
Common grammar mistakes can be avoided if you take the time to learn the rules and then apply them. Pay special attention to the eight that follow.
The 8 most common grammar miscues
Here’s a list of the eight most common grammar mistakes and ways to spot and fix them.
1. Me versus I: subject pronoun (plural subjects)
“Me and Janet completed the quarterly sales report.”
“Janet and I completed the quarterly sales report.”
Rule: When the subject is more than one, you need a subject pronoun (I, she, he, we, they, who).
Clue: Say the sentence without ‘Janet’. “I finished the quarterly sales report.” Now it’s easy to tell which pronoun is correct, right?
2. Me versus I: object pronoun (verb)
“Katherine hired Dave and I to draft the sales proposal.”
“Katherine hired Dave and me to draft the sales proposal.” is correct.
Rule: “Dave and me” is the object of the verb “draft” and therefore requires an object pronoun (me, her, him, us, them, whom).
Clue: Say the sentence without Dave. “Katherine hired me to draft the sales proposal.” It’s obvious now, isn’t it?
3. Me versus I: object pronoun (preposition)
“Between you and I, we got the job done.”
“Between you and me, we got the job done.”
Rule: In this sentence, “me” is the object of the preposition “between” and therefore requires an object pronoun (me, her, him, us, them, whom).
Clue: “I” is the subject of a sentence and will be followed by a verb “ran, went, jumped, cried.” “Me” is the object of a sentence and is preceded by a preposition “with, to, between, before.”
“Irene, Lloyd and myself finished the blueprints.”
“Irene, Lloyd, and I finished the blueprints.”
Rule: You can’t use a “-self” pronoun (myself, yourself, himself, herself, themselves, ourselves) unless it refers to another noun or pronoun earlier in the sentence.
Clue: Look for the referral word that precedes the pronoun and say the sentence without “Irene, Lloyd.” “I finished the blueprints.”
How many times have you read this incorrect sentence?
“Please feel free to contact myself if you need further information.”
“Please feel free to contact me if you need further information.” is correct.
5. To versus too
“Roger was to swamped and couldn’t complete the report on time.”
“Roger was too swamped and couldn’t complete the report on time.”
This might seem like an obvious mistake. It happens most often when you’re in a hurry – but that’s no excuse. Your reader will notice the gaff.
6. Lay versus lie
“Nigel was feeling light-headed, so his manager suggested he lay down in the infirmary.” is incorrect.
“Nigel was feeling light-headed, so his manager suggested he lie down in the infirmary.” is correct.
Rule: You lie down on a bed and lay down an object.
Clue: To lay is to place something down in a resting position. A chicken lays eggs, it doesn’t lie eggs.
7. There versus their versus they’re
“It was there turn to present sales projections.”
“It was their turn to present sales projections.”
“Their looking forward to presenting this quarter’s sales projections.” is incorrect.
“They’re looking forward to presenting this quarter’s sales projections.” is correct.
Rule: There is a place, their is a possessive pronoun, they’re is a contraction of “they are.” This grammar gaff is rarely due to not knowing the difference; rather, it slips through spellcheck.
Clue: This common grammar mistake can easily be avoided by proofreading your communications carefully before pressing “send”.
8. They/their versus he/his or she/her
As you probably know, the convention for the use of “they” has changed. It is now acceptable to use “they” to identify an individual and allows for gender neutrality.
“They asked that their report be presented last” can refer to a single person.
Rule: In the appropriate context, “they/their” is a plural pronoun while he/his and she/her are singular. So, if you’re writing about someone who is previously identified as one male or female, “they” is no longer grammatically correct.
Clue: Are you referring to one person who identifies as either male or female? Or are you talking about a group of people or someone who wishes to remain gender-neutral? Attention to context is important with this grammar rule.
Why good grammar matters.
In the age of Twitter shorthand and texting shortcuts, good grammar and spelling are taking a beating. But according to experts in business communications, they’re still relevant.
If you take time to edit your writing – whether it’s an email to a peer or superior, a sales pitch to a potential client, or a summary of work you’ve completed – your message holds more weight when your grammar and spelling are accurate.
I always encourage my fellow writers to “make friends with good writing.”
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you communicate effectively:
What grammar miscues trip you up? Please share them here.
By Barbara McNichol
Now more than ever, clarity in communication is important.
We’re all adapting to more virtual meetings and a great deal more email communication. Documents that were discussed around a meeting table and then edited by a single person now make their way to multiple colleagues via email.
We’ve become accustomed to common abbreviations in text messages, such as, “C U @ 8pm @ Rogers, bring appie.” It gets the point across that your friend will show up at Roger’s house at 8:00 pm and you’ll bring an appetizer.
But what about in business interactions? Are correct spelling and grammar still relevant? I’d argue that they most certainly are…and I offer advice for professionals seeking clarity and credibility in their communication.
Here are four common grammar and spelling mistakes that undermine your credibility.
Let me be clear: we’re not going for Shakespeare. But don’t discount the possibility that your peer, manager, or potential employer has a solid grounding in the rules of English grammar and spelling. When you break those rules, you lose (not loose) credibility.
Let’s take a look at four of the most common mistakes. I call them Word Trippers…
1. Who and That.
Who refers to a person. That refers to an object.
“The person that sent you the proposal is an authority on the subject.”
“The person who sent you the proposal is an authority on the subject.”
“That proposal is worth considering. The person who wrote it is an authority on the subject.”
2. Me, myself and I.
I’ll grant you, this one is counter-intuitive. People often use “self” in a sentence, I suspect because they think it sounds more academic and authoritative. It’s “padding” in a sentence, which rarely adds meaning. So you’ll read phrases like this…
“Please contact myself if you have any questions.”
“Please contact me if you have any questions.”
“Myself and Jim will be there at 4:00 pm to discuss the proposal with yourself in person.”
“Jim and I will be there at 4:00 pm to discuss your proposal.”
Yourself is your self…no one can contact yourself. It’s a reflexive pronoun. You can talk to yourself. But nobody else can talk to yourself; he or she can only talk to you.
Consider these examples:
“Jim and me attended the meeting yesterday and it was very informative.”
“Myself and Jim attended the meeting yesterday and it was very informative.”
“Jim and I attended the meeting yesterday.”
Here’s a great way to avoid tripping on this: Test your grammar by removing the second person from the sentence. For example, say this awkward – and grammatically incorrect – sentence:
“Me went to the meeting yesterday.”
And so is this:
“Myself went to the meeting yesterday.”
3. Further or farther?
Have you ever wondered about the difference between further and farther? There’s constant debate around this – and since English is a living language, it’s ever-evolving. However, most experts agreed that further is figurative and farther is literal, referring to a measurable distance.
“Jan has traveled further than anyone else in the company to meet with clients.”
“Jan has traveled farther than anyone else in the company to meet with clients.”
“Farther to the point Jan was making about excess travel for sales meetings, I’d like to send you this report regarding our fleet mileage costs.”
“Further to the point Jan was making about excess travel for sales meetings, I’d like to send you this report regarding our fleet mileage costs.”
4. Apostrophes: the ultimate tripper.
Of all the grammar glitches I see, this is the most common. Misusing this punctuation mark rarely creates confusion in meaning, but it’s a glaring error for people who know the proper usage.
“Its likely we’ll miss our fourth-quarter revenue projections.”
“It’s likely we’ll miss our fourth-quarter revenue projections.”
“Since our sales teams travel expenses have been so high, we’ll take a loss on our fourth-quarter revenue.”
“Since our sales team’s travel expenses have been so high, we’ll take a loss on our fourth-quarter revenue.”
An apostrophe plays two roles in the English language. It signals an abbreviation – “it’s” instead of “it is” – and possession – “the sales team’s travel expenses.”
Pay attention to these common missteps in written communication. There are many others.
Don’t get let poor grammar and spelling prevent you from showing clients and colleagues you’re knowledgeable about your product or service. Contact me for more information.
Did these tips help you? Are you interested in improving your writing? I am offering a $29 discount on my Word Trippers program until the end of May.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you communicate effectively:
by Barbara McNichol
When to use an apostrophe…
Sometimes, “apostrophe confusion” is more apparent than reading weather reports during an extreme cold snap.
If we can trust Punxsutawney Phil, the end of these sub-zero temperatures should be near…but in case a groundhog isn’t your first choice for meteorological – or grammatical – advice, let’s cover the basics with examples inspired by fellow grammar-guru Kathleen Watson.
Adding an “s” to numbers…
If you’re pluralizing a number, don’t add an apostrophe.
- Temperatures will drop into the 30s tonight.
- There were four 747s waiting on the tarmac.
- She said both size 8s were too loose.
Adding an “s” to decades…
If you’re writing about years as decades, don’t add an apostrophe.
- He teaches a class on rock bands of the 1960s and ’70s.*
- They worked together to refurbish a vintage car from the 1940s.
- This is the most snowfall the region has seen since the 1980s.
When writing about a trend in a year or decade…
When a year or decade defines something that could be replaced by another proper noun, use an apostrophe to indicate possession.
- During Germany’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
During 1936’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
- Funds raise by Mary Holmes in 2018 surpassed Jane Smith’s efforts in 2017.
Funds raised in 2018 surpassed 2017’s efforts.
- The Chicago White Sox were World Series Champions in 2005.
The Chicago White Sox were 2005’s World Series Champions.
When starting a sentence with a number…
Whenever possible, avoid using a number at the beginning of a sentence unless it’s a year. And be sure to add an apostrophe according to the rules above.
- 1929’s stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression.
- 2019 was the most robust year for new car sales in our region.
- Seventy percent of my day is consumed by responding to emails.
Don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize numbers:
Incorrect: “The airline owns a fleet of 747’s.”
Correct: “The airline owns a fleet of 747s.”
Don’t use an apostrophe with a number that indicates a decade:
Incorrect: “The 1960’s were marked by advances in civil rights and space travel.”
Correct: “The 1960s were marked by advances in civil rights and space travel.”
Do use an apostrophe to designate possession.
Incorrect: “Funds raised this year surpassed 2019s target.”
Correct: “Funds raised this year surpassed 2019’s target.”
*Bonus: Use an apostrophe to indicate missing digits.
Incorrect: “Most people look back at the 60s with fondness.”
Correct: “Most people look back at the ’60s with fondness.”
Following the guidelines of good grammar is always important. Why? When you communicate in a clear, correct manner, your message carries more resonance and credibility.
Did you find this article helpful? Here are a few more gems.
Thanks to Kathy Watson for her input to this post. I highly recommend her reference guide Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help you get over the grammar hump with ease.
By Howard Robson, Guest Blogger
Great bloggers neither leave their content unpolished nor do they publish before their work is wholly refined. To bring traffic to your website and enlarge your targeted audience, it is essential to respect the proofreading process.
Whether you’re working on a paper, blog, article, e-mail, or other essential document, always be sure to proofread it and make sure it delivers the proper message. Here are seven ideas you can apply.
- Change Your Mindset
If you are always grumpy about revising your work and find no fun in it, your results will show it. You might lose readers, which won’t help in the long run. Here’s how to adopt a growth mindset:
- After you’ve created your piece, take time to reflect on your work. Is there anything you don’t feel unsatisfied about? Are you content with delivering this message to your niche? Is your grammar correct?
- If you have unanswered questions, write down ideas to address them. What would you like to improve, how, and in what time frame? Set goals and deadlines, then start working on them.
- Treat yourself kindly and take regular breaks. Nobody can work non-stop! Work 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. During your free time, meditate, dance, read, listen to classical music, or do something that loosens you up. Avoid getting sidetracked into social media.
- Practice Makes Perfect
Become a better proofreader through practice. When you don’t have any assigned tasks, write! Yes, simply write down your thoughts using the best language you can.
Dan Creed, content writer at AustralianEssays, shares this opinion: “You could write about your day, your plans, your goals, or anything else that goes through your mind. Search for synonyms for words you are displeased with. Rock that learning curve!”
- Reading Is Essential
To improve your writing skills, allocate at least 15 minutes a day or more to reading a well-written article. Sign up for The Economist, HuffPost, The New York Times, or any magazine that’s attractive to you. Pay attention to the writer’s approach and style. That will inspire you to progress—in both your proofreading and your writing.
- Find a Proofreading Buddy
Identify a colleague you can reach out to. Work with a person who’s specialized in your area of interest. You can trade tips, exchange ideas, and do each other’s proofreading projects. Help that person help you.
- Write Down Your Common Errors
Design a “mistake list” and go through it every time you’ve finished writing an article. For instance, I know that “affective” and “effective” are two words I always mix up, so I include them in my list. Every time I use these words in my articles, I check twice to see if I got them right. Use your mistakes as learning tools. (Excellent resource: Word Trippers Tips)
- Be Patient
Take things step by step, and don’t rush when you write, polish, or proofread your piece. Remember, you are not done until you’ve revised your content to your satisfaction. Be patient with your learning process. Read and write daily, and you’ll make fewer mistakes, write better (and faster!), and have more free time.
- Ask for Help
Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Ask your colleague or even a professional editor to re-read your piece after you’ve polished it and proofread it yourself. Take the feedback you receive into consideration and learn from your errors.
To become a great proofreader, I suggest you set a positive mindset, practice reading and writing daily, find a proofreading buddy, ask for help when needed, and be patient and kind with yourself.
What additional ideas do you have that would improve the proofreading process? Share them here.
by Barbara McNichol
It only takes a moment to make a blunder in writing that sets in motion near-disastrous results. Sure, writing “best retards” instead of “best regards” can be embarrassing but some writing blunders can truly hurt.
What catastrophic examples can you cite about communications gone awry? What consequences followed?
Please share your writing blunders here. The person who submits the Biggest Blunder example earns a printed copy of my Word Trippers book. See www.WordTrippers.com
by Barbara McNichol
At times, strict punctuation rules can be relaxed, especially when writing artistic pieces. Even in the absence of rhyme or reason where commas are placed, however, consistency must reign.
Unconventional punctuation can create confusion in meaning.
If authors don’t struggle a bit with when to use commas, they
may be forcing readers to struggle with “getting” what they
mean. That’s when relying on the rules takes priority over artistic
A fascinating article from a New York Times columnist adroitly
addresses the correct use of a comma.
I encourage you to read this article and learn from a master, Ben Yagoda.
Yagoda’s examples explain the tricky rules for using commas. For example:
I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my
Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes,
comma after “Paris” as well. None are correct — unless
“Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and
Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the
punctuation should be:
I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend
If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly
right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another
I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in
Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.
Do you see how the correct punctuation set up clarity in
the meaning–a subtle but important distinction.
How important is it for you to follow strict punctuation
rules in your writing? Please share your comments here.
by Barbara McNichol
In my workshops and ezines, I constantly encourage writers to improve their writing by tightening their paragraphs. But what does that mean?
It means finding ways to get your point across using words that each “work like a galley slave” in the sentence or paragraph. Maximum effect using a minimum number of words. Whack wordiness!
Let me throw out a challenge–that is, tigthen the paragraph below by rewriting it. Your assignment? Convey the essence of this paragraph using a maximum of 21 words. Ready, go!
The subsequent chapters then will focus in great detail on each of the steps to make sure you know how to accomplish each step before proceeding to the next step and how to measure whether or not you are ready to move to the next step.
Your next (even more meaningful) assignment?
Dig out a page or two of your own writing and pick the longest paragraph you’ve written. Count the number of words in that paragraph and then rewrite it completely, reducing that number by a third, even half. Ensure you keep the meaning intact while making each word “work like a galley slave.”
Show me the results of either assignment or both (email the before/after writings or post them in this blog) and I’ll reward you with my Word Trippers ebook.
Give it a whack!