Are You Making These 22 Common Grammar and Spelling Mistakes?

Even the best of us make common spelling and grammar mistakes from time to time, and we often do so without even realizing it. Writing is a bit like a very elaborate and nuanced card game; there are so many different rules and guidelines that you can “play” for years before finding out you’ve been doing something incorrectly all along.

What’s important is that we learn from our errors and, most of all, learn how to correct the mistakes we keep making again and again. With that in mind, here are some of the top English grammar and spelling errors that people tend to make in business writing and advertising.

Grammar errors

  • A vs. An

    A vs. An - Common Business Writing Error

    Can you see the grammar error in this example? Photo Credit: Dyanna Hyde

    This one should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often it comes up. The word “a” should be used before any noun that begins with a consonant. It should also be used before words beginning with “U” that make a “Y” sound, such as “uniform” or “union” (as opposed to “umbrella” or “underbite”).

    “An” should be used before words beginning with vowels. You should also use it before any word that begins with an unsounded “H,” such as “honor” or “homage.”

    Please fill out the following form and a hairstylist will quickly assist you.

    Please mail an order form to the following address.

  • Subject/verb agreement errors

    Like the term suggests, subject/verb agreement is all about ensuring that your subject (the thing or person you’re talking about) matches up with the correct corresponding verb (what that object or person is doing). Writers often make subject/verb mistakes, especially when dealing with plurals and the verbs “are” and “is.”

    Incorrect:

    Each of our housewares are handmade and intricately detailed.

    Even though the sentence above contains the plural form of a noun (“housewares”), it’s actually referring to a singular subject (“each of our housewares”). This means that to maintain subject/verb agreement, the appropriate verb for a singular subject (“is”) should be used.

    Correct:

    Each of our housewares is handmade and intricately detailed.

  • Dangling participles

    A participial phrase is one that turns a verb into an adjective by adding the suffix “-ing.” For example, in the following sentence…

    Blending years of experience with a flair for creativity, Jane is among the most highly respected graphic artists in the state.

    …the phrase “Blending years of experience with a flair for creativity” is a participial phrase because it modifies the sentence’s subject (Jane).

    The mistake that writers often make is including a participial phrase with no proper subject—a dangling participle. This can make for some confusing (and sometimes unintentionally funny) results. For example:

    Incorrect:

    Stepping into the hotel atrium, exotic food and beverages from all over the world can be found.

    Based on the way this sentence is structured, it sounds as though the food and beverages themselves will be walking through the atrium! The writer in this case has made the error of implying the subject rather than making it clear. The correct strategy is to place the actual subject directly after the participial phrase.

    Correct:

    Stepping into the hotel atrium, you’ll discover exotic food and beverages from all over the world.

  • Run-ons and comma splices

    These types of grammar mistakes occur when two or more clauses are squished together without the use of proper punctuation or conjunctions. In the case of a run-on sentence, no punctuation is used at all.

    Incorrect:

    Our representatives are available from 9 to 5 every day we are happy to assist you.

    To some, adding a comma might seem to be the remedy to this situation, but it’s actually just another type of error. A comma splice is just a different form of the same problem; two clauses are incorrectly “spliced” together with nothing more than a comma.

    Incorrect:

    Our representatives are available from 9 to 5 every day, we are happy to assist you.

    There are a number of ways to fix this, depending on your own stylistic choice. These include using a period, a semicolon, or a conjunction with a comma. Each of the following examples is technically correct, but notice how each one implies a progressively deeper connection between the two different clauses.

    Correct:

    Our representatives are available from 9 to 5 every day. We are happy to assist you.

    Our representatives are available from 9 to 5 every day; we are happy to assist you.

    Our representatives are available from 9 to 5 every day, and are happy to assist you.

  • Verb tense shifts

    Most verbs have different forms of “tense,” which is essentially a way of describing when the action is taking place—in the past, present, or future. For example, the verb “to run” has a past tense (“ran”), a present tense (“run”) and a future tense (“will run”).

    Be consistent with your tenses and don’t shift mid-sentence if the time frame you’re talking about remains the same.

    Incorrect:

    When we asked our most trusted customers for feedback, they say they want to see more product options.

    Correct:

    When we asked our most trusted customers for feedback, they said they wanted to see more product options.

  • Which vs. That vs. Who

    Mixing up usage of the words “which” and “that” is quite common. There are some differing schools of thought on this, but the best rule of thumb is to use “that” before a clause that, if removed, would change the meaning of the sentence.

    Incorrect:

    We’re the only computer repair company in the city which guarantees 100% satisfaction.

    Correct:

    We’re the only computer repair company in the city that guarantees 100% satisfaction.

    In the previous examples, removing the second clause (before “that” or “which”) would make the sentence read “We’re the only computer repair company in the city,” which is a very different concept. This shows that “that” is the correct word to use.

    If you can remove the clause and the sentence still makes sense, use “which” instead.

    Our products are made from bamboo, which is highly eco-friendly.

    Removing the second clause in the previous example leaves “Our products are made from bamboo.” This still communicates the same idea, so “which” is the way to go.

    When you’re referring to a person, you want to use “who” in the same way you would use “which.”

    Here’s a testimonial from Paul Garret, who revolutionized his business with the help of our consultants.

  • Who vs. Whom

    There’s a good chance you’ve been corrected by someone once or twice when using these words out loud. As a general rule, “who” is used when referring to the subject of a sentence (the person or thing performing the action), while “whom” is used when referring to the object (the person or thing that the action is being performed on).

    Who is in charge of returns and exchanges?

    Whom should I contact if a customer requests a return or exchange?

    We can verify that the correct words are being used in the above examples by converting the questions into the appropriate “answers.” Then, it’s just a simple matter of observing which part of the sentence “who” or “whom” is referring to.

    Jeff Smyther (subject) is in charge of returns and exchanges.
    –”Who” refers to the subject.

    I (subject) should contact Jeff Smyther (object) if a customer requests a return or exchange.
    –”Whom” refers to the object.

    As this video from Merrian-Webster explains, you don’t necessarily need to use the word “whom” (even when referring to a sentence’s object) if it sounds stilted or awkward to your ear.

  • I vs. Me

    “I” and “me” are especially tricky when you’re describing multiple parties, like “Dr. Johnson and me.” Generally, you should use “I” when describing the subject of a sentence and “me” in place of the object.

    A handy trick is to drop the other party from the sentence, so that only “you” remain. If the sentence still make sense, you’ve chosen the right word.

    Dr. Johnson and I spent weeks discussing possible treatments.

    Drop “Dr. Johnson,” and we’re left with “I spent weeks discussing possible treatments,” verifying that “I” is the right choice. “Me spent weeks…” just wouldn’t sound right (unless you wanted to sound like Cookie Monster, that is).

    The specialist shared his findings with Dr. Johnson and me.

    “The specialist shared his findings with me” sounds just fine, where “The specialist shared his findings with I” would not.

  • Would Have vs. Would Of

    Whenever anyone writes the phrase “would of,” they almost certainly mean to say “would have.” “Would of” may sound similar, but it’s not grammatically correct.

    Incorrect:

    I would of taken advantage of this service sooner if I’d known about it.

    Correct:

    I would have taken advantage of this service sooner if I’d known about it.

  • Avoiding preposition at end of sentence

    Here’s one case where trying to follow the rules can actually get you into trouble. It’s a common grammar myth that ending a sentence with a preposition is incorrect. In fact, going out of your way to avoid ending on a preposition often makes your writing sound needlessly complicated.

    Too wordy:

    Please give your assigned representative the name of the catalog from which you are placing an order.

    Better:

    Please give your assigned representative the name of the catalog you’re ordering from.

  • Compound adjectives and hyphens

    A compound adjective is one made up of two or more words. There are differing rules and schools of thought here, but in general, these types of adjectives should usually contain hyphens between the individual words.

    Incorrect:

    This policy may affect our tax exempt status.

    Correct:

    This policy may affect our tax-exempt status.

    However, you should not use a hyphen after an adverb ending in -ly or an adjective ending in -er or -est.

    Incorrect:

    Be sure to visit our newly-redesigned website.

    Correct:

    Be sure to visit our newly redesigned website.

Spelling errors

  • Possessive/contraction confusion

    Some of the most common spelling and grammar mistakes comes from the usage of homonyms—words that sound the same but mean entirely different things. This often comes up when dealing with possessive pronouns and contractions.

    • You’re vs. Your
      This is a tricky error that comes up incredibly often. Notice something off about this sign?

      Most Common Business Writing Errors - Funny Misspelled Sign with Your vs. You're

      Photo Credit: Eric Castro

      There are actually multiple things wrong with it: a comma splice, incorrect usage of quotation marks, and incorrect usage of the word “your.” It should say: Smile! You’re saving a lot of money.

      Remember that “you’re” is a contraction of “you are,” and should be used anytime you could use the two interchangeably.

      You’re welcome to contact customer service with any questions or concerns.

      “Your,” on the other hand, is a possessive form of “you,” as in:

      Your satisfaction is our #1 priority.

      These two little words come up incredibly often in written advertising, so learn them well.

    • It’s vs. Its

      Funny It's vs. Its Spelling Error

      Photo Credit: tdstone

      Similarly to the last situation, “it’s” is a contraction of “it is,” while “its” is a possessive form of “it.”

      It’s about time you found an insurance company you can trust.

      Each miniature trophy we sell comes with its own mini-display case.

    • They’re vs. Their vs. There
      Here are three different words that sound the same, but have very different meanings and spellings.

      “They’re” is a contraction of “they are.”

      Not only are our staff members knowledgeable about homeopathic remedies—they’re trained in Western medicine as well.

      Real Estate Poster with Misuse of the Word 'Their'

      Photo Credit: sylvar

      “Their” is a possessive form of “they.”

      Our clients receive unique information packets tailored to their individual needs.

      “There” is used in reference to a place or location, either specific or abstract.

      Visit one of our local outlet shops! There, you’ll find the same great products at a reduced price.

  • Lose vs. Loose

    These two words are pronounced differently, but they’re similar enough that writers still sometimes mix them up. “Lose” is a verb that means “to be deprived of or misplace.” “Loose” is an adjective that is the opposite of “tight.”

    If you lose something, be sure to check our lost and found.

    This helpful gadget provides an easy way to store and sort your loose change.

  • A Lot vs. Alot

    Some people have fallen into the habit of writing “alot” when they really mean “a lot.” “Alot” isn’t even an actual word, and using it will really make you look like an amateur.

    Incorrect:

    We’ve spent alot of time and resources optimizing our customer service procedures.

    Correct:

    We’ve spent a lot of time and resources optimizing our customer service procedures.

  • Then vs. Than

    “Then” has several different meanings, but “than” should only be used when you’re comparing two different things. Use “then” in all other cases.

    If you don’t hear back from us after two weeks, then your application has been rejected.

    Our product is 25% more effective than the leading brand.

  • Effect vs. Affect

    Here’s another homonym that tends to trip people up. Remember that “effect” usually is a noun, while “affect” is a verb. In other words, subjects affect one another to produce an effect.

    Our skin balm has a powerful moisturizing effect.

    We’ve studied how the latest economic trends will affect the stock market.

    There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. As shown in the xkcd comic below, “effect” can sometimes be a verb.

    'Affect vs. Effect' xkcd comic

    Photo Credit: xkcd.com

  • Accept vs. Except

    “Accept” means “to receive willingly,” while “except” means “with the exception of” or “to willfully exclude.”

    We accept all major credit cards except for American Express.

  • Advice vs. Advise

    It’s common for these two words to get confused because they have similar spellings. Remember that “advice” is a noun, while “advise” is a verb meaning “to give advice.”

    Our experts are happy to provide you with advice related to your order.

    Our experts are happy to advise you upon request.

  • All Ready vs. Already

    “All ready” is a phrase meaning “prepared,” while “already” means “previously” or “sooner than expected.” If you mean to say that something has been done early or in the past, then you’ll want to use the word “already.”

    We have already addressed the concerns voiced by some of our shareholders.

    We will notify you once your order is all ready to be picked up.

  • Weird vs. Wierd

    Maybe you’re familiar with the grammar rule “I before E except after C.” It’s useful in many cases, but like many rules, there are often exceptions, and “weird” is one of them. Even though “wierd” follows the “I before E” rule, it also happens to be the incorrect spelling.

    Incorrect:

    After reviewing the financial records from last quarter, we’ve noticed a few wierd trends.

    Correct:

    After reviewing the financial records from last quarter, we’ve noticed a few weird trends.

Conclusion

It’s practically unavoidable to make spelling or grammar mistakes from time to time, but at least we can avoid making the same mistakes over and over. To further prevent common errors in your business writing, have other people you trust proofread your copy. They might be able to point out more pesky mistakes you’ve missed.

Any other common grammar or spelling mistakes that drive you mad? Let us know in the comments!

0saves


Are You Making These 22 Common Grammar and Spelling Mistakes?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Posted in Copywriting

2 Responses to “Are You Making These 22 Common Grammar and Spelling Mistakes?”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>