October 31, 2014

20 Grammar Rules for Business Owners

back to school

Your high school and collegiate days might be behind you, but that doesn’t mean the English lessons you learned are over as well.

Even in today’s professional business world, I run across endless grammatical errors in my business dealings. While most typos are forgivable, others cause confusion and don’t provide a good impression.

Whether you’re posting content for your brand or simply exchanging a business email, it’s extremely important for anything you write to be error free. After all, you don’t want to make a negative impression with poor grammar. Clean and compelling content influences both B2B and B2C consumers. Follow these 20 grammar rules below.

20 Grammar Rules for Business Owners

Who Versus Whom

“Who” correlates with the pronouns he/she while “whom” correlates with him/her.

Continual Versus Continuous

“Continual” means always occurring whereas “continuous” means never ending. You definitely wouldn’t want to mix these up in a business contract.

Nor Versus Or

This is one of the grammar rules that is a simple one to remember. Just think of the N. Nor follows neither while or follows either.

Complement Versus Compliment

A “complement” enhances or adds to something, such as a pair of earrings complementing an outfit. On the other hand, a “compliment” is something nice that is said such as, “I like your earrings.”

Affect Versus Effect

Affect is a verb, “That song affects my mood.” Effect is a noun, “That movie has such an inspirational effect.”

Bring Versus Take

You “bring” something with you on vacation, but you “take” something away from it.

Me Versus I

If there are other people in the sentence such as, “Mary, Bob, and I” or “Mary, Bob, and me,” then take out the other people and see what makes sense.

There, Their, They’re

“There” refers to a place, “their” refers to someone’s possession of something, and “they’re” is a contraction of they are. Most of us already know this, but it’s easy to exchange these words. Unfortunately, spell check doesn’t catch these mistakes.

Your, You’re, Yore

Similar to there, their, they’re, spell check usually can’t tell the difference between these. “Your” is possessive, “you’re” is a contraction of you are, and “yore” refers to the past.

To, Too, Two

Phew, there are so many triplet words to watch out for. Use “to” when you’re going to a place, “too” to denote also or as well, and “two” to specify the number 2.

Fewer Versus Less

If you can count it use fewer, but if it’s uncountable, then use less.

Principal Versus Principle

Just think of the last 3 letters of each word. PrinciPAL is a person whereas principle is a moral or standard that is upheld.

It’s Versus Its

“It’s” is a contraction for it is, while “its” is a possessive pronoun.

Literally

Do not be sarcastic if you use the word “literally,” especially in the business world. “I am literally starving to death,” means that you’re about to die from dehydration or starvation. Don’t say literally unless you literally mean it.

Capital Versus Capitol

When talking about Washington, D.C., this is especially tricky. “Capital” is a city such as D.C., but “capitol” is the building where lawmakers meet. So the capitol is usually in the capital. By the way, capital can also reference wealth.

Ultimate

It means “the last.” For instance, “The Titanic’s maiden voyage was its ultimate voyage.” Be careful when using this word. Your innocent “ultimate last day at work” might translate to the last day of your life.

Who’s Versus Whose

“Who’s” is a contraction of “who is.” If who is doesn’t make sense, then use whose.

Than Versus Then

When comparing use “than,” and in all other instances use “then.”

Enormity

CAUTION: Do not confuse “enormity” with “enormous.” Enormity means “evil” and does not associate with the size of something. “The enormity of our marketing campaign” doesn’t refer to how enormous the campaign is – it refers to it as evil.

Elicit Versus Illicit

“Elicit” is the process of evoking something. You want to elicit a response from consumers with a marketing campaign. “Illicit” means illegal. Your business wants to avoid illicitly acquiring products.

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Amie Marse


Amie Marse Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money, a small content generation firm based in Lexington, KY. She’s been a passionate freelance writer turned business owner for over 7 years. Her philosophy is that the essentials of content marketing do not change from the small business to the Fortune 500 level, and that creativity trumps budget every time.

24 Reactions

  1. How about assure / insure / ensure? That one always trips me up. Also, a plea, you can save two whole syllables if you use “use” in place of “utilize.”

  2. Nice list, but on several occasions you detailed only one meaning of the given word. Yes, one definition of enormity references evil and monstrous. However, it has other meanings and uses. As per Merriam Webster:

    3: the quality or state of being huge : immensity

    4: a quality of momentous importance or impact

    • I noticed that with “principal” as well. The adjective form has nothing to do with people, as in: “My principal goal is to have error-free writing.”

      Overall, I did find this to be a great article!

  3. I am an editor, and I always appreciate articles like this – thanks for posting!

    I did notice a grammar error under the “Ultimate” heading. In the last sentence, “you’re” should be “your.”

    Also, speaking of the word “ultimate,” I have one pet peeve that I see a lot. People use the word “penultimate” as if it somehow means “beyond ultimate.” In fact, it means “second to last.” By definition, there cannot be anything past the ultimate, as you so aptly point out in this article.

  4. Chuck Krutsinger

    Another common mistake is using the word “duplicity” to mean duplication. Duplicity refers to deceitfulness, as in “I was lucky not to be taken in by his duplicity.” Being asked to fill out the same paperwork twice is not duplicity, it is duplication, or perhaps redundant.

  5. These are great to remember because small grammar mistakes can cost you a lot of credibility.

  6. Lamar Wadsworth

    I cringe whenever I hear “one of the only.” If there are six 1912 Stutz Bearcats in existence and you have one of them, you have one of the few. If a single specimen exists and you have it, you have the only one. I also cringe at redundancies such as “past history” (as distinguished from future history?) and “tuna fish” (did you ever see a tuna that was not a fish?).

  7. May I suggest adding “irregardless v regardless”? Everytime someone says “irregardless” I shudder and immediately want to correct them. Great article by the way. Thanks for the reminders.

    • That’s another good one, Trudy.

      And there’s actually “irrespective” too. It can be used in place of “regardless” much of the time. That’s where I think people get confused and so that somehow got transformed into the word “irregardless” – a word that doesn’t actually exist.

      – Anita

  8. Oh, a much needed post!
    I’m tired of seeing all this “it’s” instead of “its”, “you’re” instead of “your”, etc. For God’s sake, people — edit your posts!

    Actually, I’ve come to believe that my EFL education(I’m Greek) helped me in this area: we had to do endless exercises and tests to get such points right.

  9. My English grammar is not perfect, but I am familiar with the above rules. One word that I see occasionally used incorrectly (or is it “I see occasionally incorrectly used?) – that bothers me – is THAT instead of than, when there is clearly a comparison implied. If this grammatical error did not occur so often, then I would consider it a typo; but the keys of T and N are not beside each other, so it has to be a mistake. Maybe someone more qualified than I could explain the differences of the words THAN, THEN and THAT.

  10. The word, effect, is both a noun and a verb. When used as a verb, It
    means to cause.

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