Writers, teachers, advertising and PR practitioners do not have too many things in common. One thing they all share, is their wrong use of certain words in their academic and business writing.
It is impossible to keep track of all the rules for grammar, style, and usage. But here are some of the most obvious usage and grammatical problems writers and business people encounter:
Top writing mistakes of most PR and business pros
1. Affect vs. Effect
Incorrect: The game will effect our standings in the league.
Correct: The game will affect our standings in the league.
Although both words can be used as nouns and verbs, “effect” is usually used as a noun and “affect” is usually used as a verb.
2. Apart vs. A part
Incorrect: Can I be apart of your group?
Correct: Can I be a part of your group?
Apart is an adverb meaning, “separated by some distance.” These two rocks are three feet apart from each other. “A part” is two separate words, the article “a” and the noun “part.” Apart is usually paired with “from” and a part is usually paired with “of.”
3. Assure vs. Ensure
Incorrect: You must take the proper precautions to assure your privacy.
Correct: You must take the proper precautions to ensure your privacy.
To ensure something happens is to guarantee it. Assure is to tell someone something positively or confidently to remove any doubt. Greg assured me nothing was wrong. In order to ensure that nothing was wrong, Greg locked the door.
4. Who vs. Whom
Incorrect: Who did you give that to?
Correct: To whom did you give that?
Who functions as a subject while whom functions as an object. An easy way to remember the difference is to substitute he/him into your sentences. Who (he) told me to make dinner. You delivered a pizza to whom (him)?
5. Attain vs. Obtain
Incorrect: Joe worked very hard and obtained a great level of success.
Correct: Joe worked very hard and attained a great level of success.
Attain and obtain are both verbs. Attain means “to accomplish, reach, or achieve something through effort.” Obtain means “to get, acquire, or to gain possession of something.”
Attain and obtain are both verbs. Attain means “to accomplish, reach, or achieve something through effort.” Obtain means “to get, acquire, or to gain possession of something.” Attain implies effort put forth to produce the outcome.
6. Break vs. Brake
Incorrect: There’s been a brake in the water pipe.
Correct: There’s been a break in the water pipe.
Break can be used as a noun and verb. To break something is to cause it to separate into pieces. A break is the act or action of breaking. We took a break at work. Brake can also be used as a noun and verb. To brake is to stop your car.
7. Capital vs. Capitol
Incorrect: We took a tour of the capital building today.
Correct: We took a tour of the capitol building today.
Capital refers to a city, specifically a governmental seat. It can also be used in a financial sense to describe money or equipment. Capitol is a building where a legislature meets.
8. Compliment vs. Complement
Incorrect: Today I received a nice complement from a friend.
Correct: Today I received a nice compliment from a friend.
A compliment is a flattering or praising remark. A complement is something that completes or brings something to perfection. Those shoes are the perfect complement for that dress.
9. Comprise vs. Compose
Incorrect: Fifty states comprise the United States.
Correct: Fifty states compose the United States.
Comprise means “to be made up of.” Compose means “to make up the constituent parts of.” With comprise, the whole is the subject.
With compose, the parts are the subject.
10. Emigrate vs. Immigrate
Incorrect: My grandparents emigrated into the United States.
Correct: My grandparents immigrated into the United States.
To immigrate is to enter a new place. To emigrate is to leave a place. You immigrate into places and emigrate from places.
11. Everyday vs. Every day
Incorrect: I get coffee before work everyday.
Correct: I get coffee before work every day.
Everyday, when used as a single word, is an adjective meaning commonplace, usual, and suitable for ordinary days. Every day, two words, is an adverbial phrase. Substituting “each day” for “every day” will help you keep them separated.
12. Explicit vs. Implicit
Incorrect: Please be implicit; what is it that you want?
Correct: Please be explicit; what is it that you want?
To say something explicitly is to spell it out clearly so that it is unambiguous. Something is implicit when it is implied or not said clearly and directly.
13. Invoke vs. Evoke
Incorrect: This comic strip will invoke laughter.
Correct: This comic strip will evoke laughter.
To invoke is to assert something as authority or appeal to someone for help. Great Britain invoked military aid from the United States. To evoke is to bring someone forth or to recall something to the conscious mind. Invoke is a more direct action than evoke.
14. Who vs. That
Incorrect: The woman that opened the door for you is my mom.
Correct: The woman who opened the door for you is my mom.
When referring to inanimate objects or animals without a name, use that. When referring to human beings and animals with a name, use who.
15. Onto vs. On to
Incorrect: The cat jumped on to the dresser.
Correct: The cat jumped onto the dresser.
Onto is a preposition that means “on top of, to a position on.” On to, two words, is used when on is part of a verb phrase such as “held on.” She held on to the chains while swinging. A good trick is to mentally say “up” before “on” in a sentence. If it still makes sense, then onto is the correct choice.
16. Passed vs. Past
Incorrect: The car past me on the left.
Correct: The car passed me on the left.
Passed implied movement of some sort. Past is a period of time before the present. Olusegun Obasanjo is a past president.
17. To vs. Too vs. Two
Incorrect: There are to many people here.
Correct: There are too many people here.
Too means “also, very, or excessive.” Two is the number 2. I need two pizzas. To is just about everything else. Can you drive me to the mall?
18. There vs. Their
Incorrect: All of there equipment was loaded into the truck.
Correct: All of their equipment was loaded into the truck.
There is a directional word and is usually paired with “is” or “are.” Over there is a crocodile. Their is possessive. Their house is very cute.
19. Toward vs. Towards
The difference between towards and toward is entirely dialectal. In American English, you should use toward. In British English, you should use towards.
20. Principal vs. Principle
Incorrect: Mr. Babcock is the principle of the high school.
Correct: Mr. Babcock is the principal of the high school.
Principal refers to a person of high authority or prominence. It also has specific meanings in finance and law. How much have you repaid on the principal of your loan? Principle is a natural, moral legal rule or standard. The principle of free speech is essential in any democracy.
21. This is Him / This is Her
Incorrect: Can I please speak with Rachel? Yes, this is her.
Correct: Can I please speak with Rachel? Yes, this is she.
When someone calls on the phone asking for you, you should always respond by saying this is he/she because these words are nominative, not objective.
22. If I Was vs. If I Were
Incorrect: I wish I was rich.
Correct: I wish I were rich.
When you are dealing with counterfactuals or things that are wishful, hopeful, or imaginative, you need to use what is called the subjunctive mood. A good indicator for a subjunctive verb is when you see an “if.” If I were a wealthy man…I wouldn’t have to work hard.
23. Referring to a business as “They”
Incorrect: The company offered a discount to increase their profits.
Correct: The company offered a promotion to increase its profits.
A company or organization is not a plural. It is a singular entity. Therefore, when referring to a business, “it” is more appropriate than “they.”
24. Using Me Instead of I
Incorrect: Me and my friend are going to the beach.
Correct: My friend and I are going to the beach.
“I” is a subject while “me” is an object. That means that whenever the word in question is acting as the subject of the sentence, you should use “I.” Also, by convention, “I” is secondary in your sentence when others are present. Steve and I are getting lunch.
25. Which vs. That
Incorrect: No bags which are over 50 pounds will be permitted.
Correct: No bags that are over 50 pounds will be permitted.
“That” is reserved for restrictive clauses, clauses that are essential to the meaning of a sentence. For non-restrictive or nonessential clauses, use “which.” My bedroom, which is on the second floor, has a window.