There are grammandoes in our midst. I don’t think of myself as such, but there are a few spelling and grammar errors that make my skin crawl. There are others out there like me. When you’re providing customer service or technical support, when you’re applying for a job, doing business, or otherwise working with someone who shares my distaste for such grievous infractions as spelling your when you mean you’re, this simple guide may help keep your reputation intact. (Oh, that was a seriously long run-on sentence!) For many people, proper spelling and grammar is not an issue. For the people to whom it matters, it really matters. By simply being aware, it’s not hard to do it right.
I must confess to publishing this guide with some trepidation over the likely possibility that it might contain its own grievous errors committed out of ignorance or bad proofreading. If you spot such a travesty, please be gentle in your admonishment!
Your and You’re You’re is a contraction (or combination) of the words you and are. Your is the possessive form of you. (Hint: Your is interchangeable with my.)
- Correct: You’re very good at grammar.
- Incorrect: Your expected to be at work on time.
- Correct: Your parents are coming for a visit.
- Incorrect: You’re car ran out of gas.
There, Their, and They’re Use there when referring to a place or with verbs such as is, are, was, and were. Use their to indicate possession. They’re is a contraction of the words they and are.
- Correct: I’m excited to go there.
- Incorrect: I’ve never been their before.
- Correct: Did you see their beautiful gardens?
- Incorrect: They’re house has a stone entryway.
- Correct: They’re going to the opera tonight.
- Incorrect: There two of my favorite people
Accept and Except Accept is to agree or to receive. Except is a synonym for but, an exception.
- Correct: I’m delighted to accept your invitation.
- Incorrect: I can’t except your money.
- Correct: I like all animals except snakes.
- Incorrect: My favorite dessert is ice cream, accept vanilla.
Affect or Effect Use effect when you’re talking about a result. It’s also used when you’re talking about causing something to happen. Use affect when you’re talking about influencing rather than causing.
- Correct: I wonder how the rain will affect the water level in the lake.
- Incorrect: Will his mistake effect his career?
- Correct: The special lighting produced a nice effect.
- Incorrect: The chiles added a spicy affect.
All right or Alright Strunk and White says, “Properly written as two words.”
- Correct: It’s all right. Don’t worry about it.
- Incorrect: Alright, I’ll take care of it.
- Note: Alright is commonly used and will probably become accepted usage in the near future. For now, recommended usage is all right.
Assure, Ensure, or Insure To assure is to say or promise something with confidence. To ensure is to make certain that something will or won’t happen. To insure is to issue an insurance policy.
- Correct: I can assure you of his integrity.
- Incorrect: We want to insure your safety. (Unless you have a financial interest in their safety, you probably don’t want to insure it!)
- Correct: It’s important to ensure your children are given proper guidance.
- Correct: It’s important to insure your home against loss.
I or Me Use I when it is the subject of a verb. For example, Jen and I scheduled the training. In that sentence, Jen and I are the subjects of the verb scheduled, so the correct usage is I. Jen and me is incorrect. Use me when it is the object of a verb. The object of a verb typically follows the verb and is affected by or receives some action. For example, Tom sent a gift certificate to Janet and me. In this example, Janet and me are the objects of the verb sent, so me is the correct usage. An easy way to check yourself is to remove the proper nouns from the sentence. In the first example, you would say I scheduled the training, not Me scheduled the training. In the second example, you would say Tom sent a gift certificate to me, not Tom sent a gift certificate to I. Also, remember that I and me go after other nouns and pronouns.
- Correct: Janet and I are excited to see you.
- Incorrect: We’re excited for you to join Janet and I for the holidays.
- Correct: Jared and I are getting together tonight after work.
- Incorrect: Me and Jared are getting together tonight after work.
Its and It’s This is a confusing situation. The thing to remember is that it’s is always a contraction of the words it is or it has. It’s never used to indicate possession. It’s frequently been misused. When misused, its meaning changes.
- Correct: It’s time to go home.
- Incorrect: The cat lost it’s hat.
- Correct: The statue fell off its pedestal.
- Incorrect: Seattle is known for it’s rain.
Irregardless is not a word. Use it and people will snicker. Just say regardless.
Loose and Lose Loose means not tight. To lose something means it is lost.
Unique means one of a kind. There are no degrees of uniqueness. Something is either unique or it’s not. Don’t say very unique. That’s sort of like being very pregnant. A woman is either pregnant or she’s not.
It’s could have, not could of.
Read this post to learn more about how to communicate using email.
- HBR Guide to Better Business Writing
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Also, consider installing the Grammarly plugin in your browser. There are free and paid versions to help you with grammar, spelling, and writing in general.
October 15, 2016 Note: This post originally referred to grammar nazis instead of grammandoes. I was introduced to the term grammando in a lecture from The Great Courses on grammar by Professor Anne Curzan, Ph.D. The term was coined by Lizzie Skurnick in the March 4, 2012 issue of the New York Times Magazine. I decided to edit this post, replacing grammar nazi with grammando, after reflecting on the atrocities committed by Nazis. I want to keep Nazis and their messed up ideas isolated from the mainstream. Although some may say, “It’s just words.”, words are powerful. Speech can change the course of nations.
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