Word usage, or more accurately, improper word usage, can undermine your credibility in communicating with employees, colleagues, clients and prospects. It happens with an alarming regularity, ranging from small blogs to global company newsletters, all with equally off-putting results. I considered the humor in writing this post with brutally incorrect word usage, but the writer in me would have none of that. Besides, it would be painful – on par with being forced as a kid to eat my veggies before leaving the dinner table. Now that was painful!
Improper word usage or grammar tends to create one of several undesirable perceptions of you or your company – lesser intelligence, careless when communicating, lack of respect and polish, diminished or lack of power in negotiating, and more. I’m not the grammar police, but I don’t see why we can’t make the effort to produce higher quality communication. With that, read on: below are a few examples of common, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard mistakes seen far too often in a corporate setting.
1. Your / You’re
- Tops the list as a result of the stunning frequency with which this gaffe appears.
- “Your” is a possessive form of “you”…your house, your car, your reputation.
- Quick test to see which form to use: replace either term with “you are”. If it makes sense, then you can use “you’re”. If not, go with “your”.
2. There / They’re / Their
- With three possible ways to flub this, it’s hardly surprising that it occurs so frequently.
- There is a term inferring direction, hence “reading there books” makes no sense.
- They’re is a contraction meaning “they are”. What are they? They’re books.
- Their is a possessive form of they. Whose books? Their books.
- When in doubt, follow the simple test above, using “they are” in place of any of the terms. If the term makes sense, you can use “they are”.
3. Personal / Personally
- Ugh…not sure why, but I find this more grating than the others – maybe it’s personal.
- Personally is an adverb that refers to one person having done something, or about to do something.
- Personal is an adjective, and refers to a specific person.
4. Lose / Loose
- This head-scratcher has appeared at an increasingly alarming rate, and I have no idea why.
- Lose has approximately fourteen definitions (if you count slang), but not one of them indicates a lack of tightness, as does loose.
- The team did not “loose” the game (believe it or not, I’ve seen this many times and still can’t wrap my head around it), but they did “lose” the game. Simple enough.
5. It’s / Its
- This one can be a bit tricky, but we still need to get it right. While many possessive terms contain an apostrophe (Dan’s car, the wolf’s pups, etc.), this does not.
- It’s is a contraction meaning “it is”.
- Its is a possessive form: “Its rugged exterior and powerful drive train made the Jeep the choice of off-road driving enthusiasts.”
Well, there you have it. It’s my hope that you see how much you have to lose with improper usage and that you don’t take my comments personally, as they’re intended to be helpful. Oh, and by they way…you’re welcome! One last, mind-numbing example is this image of a resignation letter I received from a member of a team I managed several years ago.