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Do you make these embarrassing mistakes in your business writing?

There are countless grammatical mistakes that compromise your credibility. And believe me, selecting just a few for this blog post was difficult.

In the end, I resolved to focus on those that annoy me the most.

So here goes: 10 grammatical mistakes that drive Vikki CRAZY (and do you no favours either).

1. Minimize Minimise use of American spelling

If you’re writing for an Australian or British audience, don’t spell these words with a ‘z’:

  • organise
  • realise
  • capitalise
  • emphasise
  • analyse

Make sure you also write:

  • colour, not color
  • favour, not favor
  • centre, not center

I know, I know. Your spell-checker prefers these words the American way. But Americans also think a ‘thong’ is something you wear under your skinny jeans. Need I say more?

Believe it or not, you’re smarter than your computer. Here’s an idea: ignore its suggestions. Or go completely wild and ‘add to dictionary’ once and for all.

2. Prevoid Avoid made-up words 

When you use the word incentivize, you look like a twit. Why not just say motivate? It’s actually a word.

Also ditch monetize, productize and strategize.

Using an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’ doesn’t help here – I don’t care whether you’re from Australia, America or Timbuktu. They’re bogus words.

Okay, so if you work for a la-di-da consulting firm, then you probably hear this gibberish every day. It might even be ingrained in your official corporate style guide. (Time to look for a new job?)

Also steer clear of these non-existent words:

  • prevoid
  • irregardless
  • alot

3. Random Ccapitalisation Ffor Nno Aapparent Rreason

Capitalising every word in your titles or top level headings is fine. But don’t use title case in subheadings or your body text unless:

  • it’s the first word in a sentence
  • it’s part of an official title, place or name.

Random capitals make your writing look cluttered and unprofessional.

4. The marketing team aren’t isn’t going to forgive you for this

If you’re writing about a group, team, department, club, family or organisation, maintain a singular voice – not a plural one. They’re known as collective nouns. And there are many of them.

  • Don’t write: The Grammar Department are unimpressed.
  • Do write: The Grammar Department is unimpressed.

I see this mistake often made when people write about companies.

  • Don’t write: Myer have another stock-take sale.
  • Do write: Myer has another stock-take sale.

5. If only less fewer people would make this mistake

This one’s a personal favourite. Fewer and less are not interchangeable.

  • Don’t write: Your emails will have less mistakes after you read this blog post.
  • Do write: Your emails will have fewer mistakes after you read this blog post.

Why is fewer the correct choice here rather than less? The answer is simple: we can count mistakes. In contrast, when we refer to something that we can’t count (like rainfall, vodka or activity), we write less.

  • We had less rainfall this winter… and bought fewer umbrellas.
  • I drink less Vodka than you… and experience fewer headaches.
  • Children engage in less activity than they used to… and suffer fewer injuries.

6. Whilst While you might like them, these conventions are history

These grammar conventions are as obsolete as quills and typewriters. Let ’em go, ok?

  • Whilst is a deprecated version of while. Eighteenth century language has no place in 2013.
  • Don’t press enter twice after a full stop. Modern style is to use one space after a sentence.
  • Paragraph indentation is old-fashioned. We now simply leave a line space between paragraphs.
  • It’s perfectly fine to end sentences with prepositions such as with, to and from. Because guess what? Your English teacher was wrong about this one. Yup, old Miss Battle-Axe has a lot to answer for.

7. Its It’s really not that hard. I promise.

It’s or Its? Do you struggle with the apostrophe on this little word? Let’s nip this in the bud right now.

It’s is always a contraction for it is or it has. So only add an apostrophe if your sentence still makes sense once those two words are separated out again.

  • Don’t write: Its a bird, its a plane. No, its Superman.
  • Do write: It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it’s Superman.

If it doesn’t make sense when the two words separate out, then the apostrophe shouldn’t be there.

  • Don’t write: The business is improving it’s brand image. (Improving it is brand image? Huh?)
  • Do write: The business is improving its brand image. (Aaah. Better.)

8. This is easier to avoid then than you think

Some people misuse the words then and than. The words may look and sound a lot alike, but they’re entirely different.

Than is used only in comparisons like this: I like the first season of Mad Men better than the second. Whereas then is used to indicate time: Don was married to Betty, and then he was married to Megan.

9. This error will affect effect your credibility

Okay, let’s make this as simple as possible. Affect is a verb, as in: Coffee affects her mood. But effect is a noun, as in: The effects of climate change can’t be ignored.

Although there are exceptions, this explanation is valid 99% of the time – particularly in your everyday business writing.

10. This one really bugs my colleague and I me

Knowing whether to use me, myself‘ or I in a sentence that’s referring to two people can be confusing. But there’s an easy way to get around it –  without needing to understand the concept of subject and objects. Are you ready?

Simply remove the other person from the sentence and do what sounds correct.  You would never say ‘Speak correctly to I”, so you also wouldn’t say ‘Speak correctly to daddy and I’.

And don’t punt and say myself because you’re not sure whether me or I is the correct choice. Myself is very rarely appropriate.

Any gripes of your own to share? Or perhaps you have a grammar conundrum that needs sorting out. Please contact me and I’ll do my best.