Business Writing Skills IV: Look Smarter with These Grammar Tips

There is no better way to make your company lose credibility than to have your writing fraught with mistakes. Here's a quick list of some of the most common grammatical errors I see on the web today, and how to avoid them.

By Linda Elizabeth Alexander

1. Apostrophes in plural vs. possessive.
It is not necessary to add an apostrophe to pluralize a word. For most nouns, you can simply add "s" to the end of the word to make it plural. To make the noun possessive, you usually add " 's "

Example: One newspaper, two newspapers. One dog, two dogs. But: The newspaper's ink is black. (The ink of one newspaper is black.) The dogs' noses are wet and cold. (The noses of more than one dog are wet and cold.)

2. Whose vs. who's.
Whose = belonging to whom.
Example: Whose coat is this?
Who's = who is. It's a contraction like don't for do not, or can't for cannot.
Example: Who's going to the party tonight?

3. Its vs. it's.
Its = belonging to it.
Example: The dog licks its butt.
It's = it is. It's a contraction like don't for do not, can't for cannot, or who's for who is.
Example: It's cold outside.
Example: The dog licks its butt when it's cold outside.

4. Affect vs. effect
"Affect" means to influence. "Effect" is a result. It is best to avoid using "effect" as a verb.

Example: How will the new drug affect me?
Example: The effect of the new drug is that it cures headaches.

5. Comma splices versus semicolon.
A run on sentence separated by a comma is called a comma splice. This is NOT proper English. Instead, connect two independent clauses (each can be a sentence of its own) with a semicolon.

Example: Instead of "It's sunny outside, put on your sunglasses." Change to: "It's sunny outside; put on your sunglasses."

6. Who vs. Whom.
Who is the subjective; whom is the objective. If you are not sure which to use, try substituting a personal pronoun to see which one fits.

Example: If he she or they fits, use who.
Who will pick up dinner tonight?
He will pick up dinner tonight.

Example: If him, her or them fits, use whom.
You are writing the letter to whom?
You are writing the letter to her.

These are only a few of the many common mistakes business writers make in their writing. For more in-depth explanations, I recommend a good grammar and/or style manual, such as Strunk and White's Elements of Style, The Little, Brown Handbook, or The Business Writer's Companion by St. Martin's Press.

Linda Elizabeth Alexander is a freelance business writer and marketing consultant based in Colorado, USA. Be heard and understood! Subscribe to Write to the Point, a FREE ezine for business people who want to learn how to write better.

Share this page with your friends


Share this page with your friends.