I know the headline already pushed you to a panic attack and maybe the rest of this post will send you in to a full-blown heart attack caused by the grammar police! But rest easy my English-loving, Facebook correcting friend.
There are plenty of words or phrases we’ve used in business writing that are checked (and triple checked) on search engines like Google or paperback references…like the dictionary, remember?
Everyone’s favorite part of their Branding + Positioning Strategy is the Brand Bio and messaging section because it brings everything to life in a descriptive way they can copy and paste. While writing for numerous industries I’ve come across things I wanted to say and figuring out the correct way to say them. Sometimes what you wish could be a tagline either needs to be edited or intentionally (and obviously) left incorrect.
I’ve also edited several websites, social media accounts, bios and re-framed how things were written. All this fun storytelling to bring you the boiled down Top 8 list of the most common grammar mistakes. Look for these in your copy writing, LinkedIn profile and anything else you plan on publishing or letting other people read. Happy editing!
1. Dashes. Are you combining words? Are there two adjectives before a noun that you need to connect? If so, glue those words together by inserting a dash! Or you can be correct and call it a hyphen but dash is more fun to say.
As seen below the word double-check, a dash let’s people know the words go together. Spaces do not need to be added in between characters. It’s one of my favorite ways to shorten long sentences.
- EX: State-of-the-art design instead of The design is state of the art.
- EX: A fun-loving attitude instead of The girl’s attitude was fun loving.
- EX: Family-friendly dog. Family-owned business.
2. Times. This one gets on my nerves but, to mostly no fault of their own, this is a common mistake. I follow basic writing guidelines based on AP style. Even if you write or text differently, anything going out about a work event, schedule or announcement should be correct.
The most traditional way to write times is using a.m. and p.m. are never capitalized and always use periods as shown. Will you see it in caps or lowercase without periods? Yes. They’re not the end of the world but whatever you choose to decide in your business should be consistent throughout.
Times like noon and midnight are also lowercase. You don’t need to be redundant with 8 a.m. in the morning, 8 o’clock p.m., 12 noon or 12 midnight. You can say noon, midnight, 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. Notice the spaces between the number and letter. If you’re talking about a space of time for an event, stay in that time frame (like the second example). If you’re starting in the morning and ending in the morning only a.m. needs to be used at the end of the sentence. If it starts and ends in the afternoon, p.m. will only be used after the end time. If it starts and ends at an a.m. and p.m. (like an overnight or all day event) that’s when you specify with each.
- EX: Class starts at 8 a.m. Monday not Class starts at 8AM Monday morning.
- EX: Workshops begin at noon, 2:30 and 4 p.m. The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
3. Layed, Lied. This came across when writing about a beach towel company we had branded called SunDay. If you’re using these types of phrase in your company language or product descriptions be aware of the difference between lay and lie. To lay something on the floor is to have the action done by the subject to an object. To lie (no object) on the floor is to have the subject’s back flat on the floor. You would lay a blanket down but you would lie down for a nap.
EX: You layed down the foundation for your business. You work so hard it makes you want to lie down. I also found this helpful online:
The past tense of lie (as in, to tell an untruth) is lied. As you can see, the past tense of lie is lay, but the past tense of lay is laid, which is a recipe for confusion! To remember that laid (as opposed to lain) is the past tense of lay, just memorize this phrase: Use a D when there is a direct object.
4. Further vs Farther. Ah another confusing and often used interchangeably. The cheat sheet version of this is to use FARTHER for distance and FURTHER for figurative speech. You can remember this because the word FAR is in FARTHER which relates to physical distance.
EX: She ran farther than her competitor. We had to walk farther than the map said.
EX: Doing the right thing will get you further in life. We need to discuss this further.
5. Affect vs. Effect. Just like the two mistakenly interchanged words above, affect and effect also find themselves in the wrong place! If you’ve ever written anything for business you’ve likely used these two words while expressing the impact (yes, impact is a tricky way people insert a verb when they’re unsure which word to use!) or differences your piece of work had on a project.
Affect is usually a verb, and it means to impact or change. Effect is usually a noun, an effect is the result of a change. An easy way to remember this is that affect comes first alphabetically, and an action (to affect) has to occur before you can have a result (an effect). Effect is used less commonly.
To affect something, you’ve produced a material influence on or alteration in something. Affect is a noun. This is influenced by facial expressions, gestures or postures that typically accompany an emotion.
EX: Healthy eating can positively affect someone’s life. She saw how studying for the test affected her grades.
To effect something, to cause or come in to being or to accomplish something. If something is in operation, in substance, a change that results when something is done or happens. It can also describe a mood or feeling.
EX: He paused for effect. Is the mission still in effect?
6. Fewer vs. Less. Have you read through these and find yourself in the midst of a flashback to English class? This one sends me straight back there.
Fewer is used to indicate countable objects. Think of using this when referred to objects in your business such as dollars, people, puppies or new clients.
Less is used to indicate intangible concepts. Using the examples above you would have less money, love, honesty, salt. You can’t count emotions or grains of salt so it’s wise to go with “less”.
EX: Fewer than 12 people attended the meeting. You can bake with fewer ingredients.
EX: I spent less than two weeks on the report. There’s one less number in the column.
7. Numbers and Percentages. I know writing 5% is a lot more efficient than five percent but if you had an entire paper marked in red with the same correction over and over (….cough, me, cough) the rules around numbers and percentages stick with you like little pet peeves.
- Writing two numbers next to each other? You get to make your own rules-ish! To avoid confusion when writing numbers together in a sentence, opt to write out the shorter number.
EX: Seven 13-year-olds not 7 13-year-olds.
- Numbers smaller than ten should be spelled out.
EX: Five not 5. Three to eight guests not 3-8 guests.
- Don’t start sentences with numbers.
EX: Fourscore and seven years ago not 4 score and 7 years ago. We sold 40,000 copies not 40,000 copies were sold.
- If you’re writing percentages or measurements, there’s some room for you to use digits. When writing formally, spell out percentages.
EX: Add 2 cups of bread flour. 23% of people said they were happy with the new park. The politician had a 90 percent approval rating.
Even after these few guidelines there are some discrepancies, right? No matter how you decide to write keep it consistent, know your audience, and get it proofread by any required officials!
8. Use vs. Utilize. You will for sure want to pay attention to this last one on the list! Good writers know keeping things short and simple are most effective. If you’ve read utilize in a work email or business report, the writer probably used this because it was a longer word that sounds fancier. In reality, use would have worked just as well and still gotten the point across.
There’s no writing situation in which “utilize” is a better choice than “use”.
Utilize is to be used (sorry if that’s confusing already) only to describe something not normally used.
EX: Don’t utilize jargon. Use simple words instead. She uses the model for specific analysis. I use my frying pan to cook with, but I have utilized it as a weapon.
We hope this helps and please don’t hesitate to reach out for a review of your current website and social media!
Now through March 31, 2020 all first-time clients get 20 percent off their Branding+Positioning Strategy!