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5 Common Grammar Mistakes That Kill Thought Leadership

Allowing common grammar mistakes to appear in your tweets, blog posts, and whitepapers is one of the fastest ways to kill thought leadership. It doesn’t make sense to spend valuable time creating content, only to lose (ahem, not “loose!”) followers and potential clients because of a preventable grammatical error. These mistakes make you look bad, especially on social media channels where your character space is extremely limited and you only have a small window to grab someone’s attention. Make it a priority to commit these five common grammar mistakes to memory now, and banish them forever more!

1) Contraction Confusion

One of the most common grammar mistakes happens around contractions, the combining of two words into one. The problem is that many contractions sound like other words. Here are the contraction errors that I consistently see in tweets, Facebook posts, and even emails:

Your vs. You’re

Your/you’re confusion is the most frequent mistake I see online, and it happens because the words sound the same.

Hint: Before you use the word “your,” try to substitute “you are.” If the sentence works with “you are,” that’s a clue to use the contraction (you’re).

Right: Your mom is the best!

Can I borrow your marketing strategy?

Wrong: Mom, your the best!

Your showing the world your the best.

It’s vs. Its

After your/you’re, this is probably the second most common grammar mistake, made even more difficult by the fact that autocorrect often provides the wrong usage. Here’s what you need to know:

“It’s” is a contraction for “it is.” “Its” (with no apostrophe) is a word implying possession (similar to “your” and “their”).

Hint: Before you use the word “it’s,” try to substitute “it is.” If the sentence works with “it is,” that’s a clue to use the apostrophe. If the sentence does not work with “it is,” do not use the apostrophe! 

Right: It’s so funny!

It’s an awesome marketing plan.

Wrong: The plan has it’s faults.

Content marketing really works. It’s success has been well documented.

They’re vs. Their vs. There

Again, these words sound the same but have different meanings and usages.

Hint: Before you use the word “their” or “there,” try to substitute the words “they are.” If the sentence works with “they are,” that’s a clue to use the contraction (they’re).

Right: Give me their phone number.

Their social media plan is awesome.

Wrong: Their so funny!

There so funny!

I know their playing a joke on you.

I know there playing a joke on you.

Whose vs. who’s

Again, there is confusion between the possessive and the contraction. “Who’s” is a contraction for “who is.” “Whose” implies ownership.

Hint: Before you use the word “who’s,” try to substitute “who is.” If the sentence works with “who is,” that’s a clue to use the contraction (who’s).

Right: Whose idea was it?

Look for the person who’s wearing blue.

Look for the person whose name is on the journal.

Wrong: Who’s jacket is this?

I don’t like a person whose always serious.

Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve

Once again, the confusion occurs because of how the contractions sound. For example, when we say “could’ve” out loud, it sounds like we’re saying “could of,” but that phrase makes no sense (because “of” is not a verb). “Could’ve” is actually a contraction for “could have.”

Right: I would have gone to the concert, but I waited too long to buy tickets.

Wrong: I would of gone to the concert…

Right: You should have given the assignment to her.

Wrong: You should of given the assignment to her.

Hint: these phrases are always (always!) contractions of “would have,” “should have,” and “could have.”

2) Apostroph-what?

Another one of the most common grammar mistakes is the misuse of the apostrophe. For some reason, many people really want to stick an apostrophe at the end of a plural word. Don’t do it, people!

Hint: The ONLY time an apostrophe is used to delineate a plural is in the case of a single letter. The famous example is “minding your p’s and q’s.” Otherwise, skip the apostrophe.

Right: shirts, ducks, TVs, 1980s, tattoos

How many TVs can one person have?

In the 1980s, many people wore neon shirts.

How many books do you own?

Wrong: Shirt’s, duck’s, TV’s, 1980’s, tattoo’s

3) Less or fewer?

This mistake happens to be one of my personal pet peeves. I’ve seen it misused in advertisements, newspaper articles, and emails from politicians. Commit this to memory, and never make this grammar faux pas again!

Hint: Less refers to things that are uncountable. Fewer refers to things that are countable. That’s it! Remember that simple rule, and never mess up again!

Right: I have less milk than my brother. (Because you can’t count “milk”).

I have fewer glasses of milk than my brother. (Because you can count “glasses of milk”).

Fewer people voted for him than for his opponent. (Because you can count people).

Wrong: 10 items or less. (A common mistake seen in grocery stores!)

People should make less mistakes. (This sentence is incorrect, and ironic!).

4) Sally and me? Or Sally and I?

Confusion about when to use “me” and “I” is one of the most common grammar mistakes I see in longer pieces of content. Here’s the breakdown:

Use “I” When you’re referring to the subject of a sentence or clause.

Right: Sally (subject) and (subject) did not know what to say.

Use “me” When you’re referring to the object of a sentence or clause.

Right: The cat (subject) played tricks on Sally (object) and me (object).

Wait. What???

Don’t panic. There’s a hint.

Hint: To figure out if you should use “I” or “me,” just take the other person out of the sentence and see if it still makes sense.

For example:

Give the ball to Sally and I.

To decide if this sentence is right or wrong, take out “Sally.”

Give the ball to I.

That just sounds wrong. Use “me” instead.

Right: Give the ball to Sally and me.

5) Which witch?

Now for a quick rundown of homonyms that are commonly, and mistakenly, swapped:

Lose vs. Loose

Out of all possible grammar mistakes, this one especially makes me want to scream (perhaps because the two words are not really homonyms! Don’t you pronounce “lose” with more of a “z” sound?). For some reason, this mistake is rampant on social media (and on tattoos! By the way, there is another error in the tattoo below, but more on that later). People, this has to stop!

“Loose” means the opposite of tight. My jeans are too loose.

“Lose” means the opposite of win. We can’t afford to lose this race. You really don’t need to lose weight.

Memorize it! That is all.

Then vs. than

Yet another all-too-common mistake I see on social media (and on tattoos!).

“Then” refers to time. I ate dinner and then I watched a movie.

“Than” is used to make a comparison. He is bigger than I am. That book is longer than this one.

Hint: “Then” and “time” both have an “e.” “Than” and “comparison” both have an “a.”

Too vs. to

“Too” is used in only two ways: 1) it is a synonym for “also” or “as well.” “I want ice cream, too.”  2) It refers to something that is in excess. “That baby is too cute.”  In the tattoo above, the correct sentence should read: “Too young to die, too fast to live.”

“To” is a preposition that tells you where something is headed. “I gave the phone to Jane.” It is also used with verbs in the infinitive. “I have to walk home.”

Hint: An easy way to remember this rule is think that “too” has an extra “o,” because it is so excessive.

Effect vs. Affect

A confession: I still have to stop and think about this one when I’m writing a sentence.

Hint: most of the time, “effect” is a noun, and “affect” is a verb!

Right: The greenhouse effect is bad for the environment. What was the effect of the punishment?

Right: Did the punishment affect him? No, he was unaffected.

Peak vs. Peek vs. Pique

Even politicians get this one wrong!

Peek: Something you do with your eyes! She peeked into the baby’s crib. Don’t peek at your birthday gifts!

Peak: The top of something. He thinks he peaked at 25. She climbed to the peak.  

Pique: To stimulate. She piqued my attention.

Hint: The word “PEAK” has the letter “A” in it, which looks like a mountaintop.

Whet vs. wet

Wet: Moist, full of water. I fell in the water and got wet.

Whet: to sharpen or stimulate. The job offer whetted my interest. I will whet his appetite with this chocolate.  

Grammar snob, or grammar smart?

I didn’t write this blog post to show off my grammar prowess, or to turn you into a grammar snob. We’ve all made grammar mistakes. In fact, when I first published my website, a friend alerted me to the fact that I had a typo on the very first page. (I had neglected to capitalize the first word of a sentence. Thanks for the catch, Jen!) And that’s pretty embarrassing for someone who does writing and editing for a living!

The main point is this: a grammar mistake can turn off your audience. It’s a shame to spend valuable time writing an article, only to sabotage your ideas–and maybe even your business–with a grammar slip. So memorize these rules. Don’t rely on spellcheck. Get a grammar-nerd friend to read your important stuff. If you are confused about a rule, just Google it! And if you do make a mistake in a tweet, Facebook update, or blog post, just acknowledge it with good grace and move on. Oops, I used “loose” instead of “lose.” Looks like I’m a grammar loser, eh? 

Runners-up

Yes, yes, the title says, “5 Common Grammar Mistakes.” But when I polled my grammar-nerd friends on Facebook, they pointed out a lot of other good ones. This section is dedicated to all of them.

Between you and me

Hint: this is the correct phrase. It is, always and forever, “between you and me.” Banish the word “I” from that phrase!

A lot

Hint: There is a lot of space between the words “a” and “lot.”

Loss/Lost

I am at a loss as to why people misuse these words.

Hint: “Loss” is a noun, and “lost” is mostly a verb (and, sometimes, an adjective, as in “my lost cat”).

All intents and purposes

Let’s just clear the air, once and for all: the phrase is NOT “for all intensive purposes.”

I wish I were perfect at grammar.

Yes, that sentence is correct! Crazy, but true: any time you are imagining or wishing for something, use the verb “were.”

If he were taller, I would date him.

I wish they were coming to dinner with us.

Sadly, this grammar rule makes it hard for me to listen to “Wishlist,” the otherwise beautiful Pearl Jam song.

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