The worst offenders and how to avoid them
Updated: Nov 6, 2022
In a world where emojis and shorthand are used every day, and autocorrect technologies continue to evolve, some may ask if good grammar and spelling are still relevant.
The short answer? Yes! In fact, many of the mistakes we correct on a regular basis are written in programs with in-built autocorrect technology.
Your words impact not only your personal credibility, but also your brand's. As expert sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer puts it, accurate writing is "a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control."
Below, we explore some common mistakes and offer simple tips to help you remember their correct usage.
They’re, Their or There
Three words that are phonetically identical but have different meanings. These are very commonly misused and it’s easy to understand why.
"They’re" is a contraction of the words "they" and "are".
Example: “They’re working together on a project", or “They’re on holiday in Greece”
TIP: If "they are" doing something, then they're is correct.
"Their" is the possessive case of the plural pronoun "they".
Example: “They left their bags at the gym.”
TIP: If it's about ownership, ensure there's an "heir" in "their"!
("Their" is generally plural, but can also be used in place of the singular "his" or "her" pronoun when you don't want to be specific about gender. Example: “Someone left their bag at the gym.”)
"There" is most commonly used as an indicative adverb. It can be used to indicate place or position, either physically or situationally.
Example: “We will meet you there, at the cinema” or "There is still hope"
TIP: When you're talking about a place, remember "here" within "there"!
Your or You’re
Two words that are easily mixed up and an error that people are very quick to spot.
"Your" is a possessive adjective and modifies nouns as belonging to the second person (someone you are directly speaking to, not about).
Example: “Your speech was very interesting ” or “You have left your bag at the gym.”
TIP: If you're not sure if it's "your" or "you're", try replacing the word with "you are". For example, "I really like you are hair" - clearly that doesn't sound right! Then you have your answer: "I really like your hair."
"You’re" is a contraction of the words "you" and "are".
Example: “You’re welcome to come along.”
TIP: An easy way to know if it has been used correctly is to break it in to "you are" and see if it sounds correct in the sentence.
Me versus I
Seemingly straightforward, correctly using either of these words is not as easy as you might immediately think. We all generally get it right when it comes to referring only to ourselves, but run into trouble when we are also listing other people in a sentence!
"Me" is used as an objective pronoun, meaning that it functions as an object (and usually in the latter part) of the sentence to indicate who is receiving the verb action.
Example: “The dog licked me.” or “Grandma bought my sister and me a Christmas present.”
In this case “me" is the direct object of the verb "licked" because it receives the action of licking.
TIP: If you remove "my sister" (or anyone else you're listing), what sounds right is generally correct, i.e. you wouldn't say "the dog licked I". When in doubt, remove the other people and check how it sounds.
"I" is a nominative pronoun that it is used as the subject of a sentence, or as a predicate nominative (a noun or pronoun, this is a word that completes a linking verb and renames the subject and often starts a clause or sentence). In this case, "I" is the subject of the sentence—the person who performed the action of changing the car tyre or going to the shops.
Example: “I changed the car tyre.” or "Sarah, Pedro and I went to the shops"
Tip: It's often hard to know whether to use "I" or "me", when listing other people in a sentence. YES, you should always list yourself (whether "me" or "I") last. A good way of knowing whether to use "me" or "I" is to remove the other people and see what sounds right.
"It happened to Sarah, Molly and I." Remove "Sarah and Molly" and it becomes clear it should be "me": "It happened to me".
Another example: "Sarah, Molly and me went to the gig." If you remove "Sarah and Molly", saying "Me went to the gig" is clearly wrong, and "I" is therefore right: "I went to the gig."
Affect vs Effect
Two words that are again are easily mixed up. But just as easily as they can confuse, so too can they be easily remembered for their correct usage with a few mnemonic tips:
"Affect" is typically a verb, and it means to impact, influence or change.
Example: “The bad weather affected the roads.” Here, we can see that the weather is impacting or affecting the roads.
Tip: Affect with an A is an Action (doing something)
Conversely, "Effect" is usually a noun and is the result of an impact, influence or change.
Tip: Effect with an E is an End-result.
Example: “I love this anti-aging cream, the effect is amazing.” In this case, we can see "effect" is the correct choice as we are discussing the result of the cream.
There is one spanner in the works here: "effect" can also function as a verb to mean "result in" or "bring about" something, whereas "affect" as a verb means to influence or change something.
Examples (correct) The change will not affect (change) his salary. The decision affects (influences) hiring policy. She affects (assumes) a disinterested air.
Other examples (correct) Some public holidays don’t affect (influence) supermarket opening hours.
Strong advertising is a good way to effect (bring about) change in consumer behaviour.