By Melanie Dawson, Marketing Co-ordinator, and Michelle Nicol, Creative Copywriter, Sage UK Ltd
It’s important within business that your communications to your customers, website information and marketing material portrays a professional image. There’s nothing worse than someone spotting a grammatical or spelling error that will then cost you money in the long run to have items reprinted.
We all wish we could spell things right first time, every time and some of us can, but now and again we all fall foul of grammatical or spelling errors, even in the era of spell check. Here are a few of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Let’s start with the apostrophe
The apostrophe (’) often seems to cause confusion. It appears where it’s not needed and disappears when it is. The apostrophe has two main uses:
1) Using the apostrophe to show ownership or belonging
- The client’s software (one client)
- Doris’ business (in this example Doris’s is also correct,
but we prefer the less cluttered punctuation)
- The children’s father
- My clients’ business (more than one client)
- AVOID the green grocer’s apostrophe The apple’s, the cauliflower’s, the carrot’s. When I see examples like this I always want to ask, ‘The apple’s, cauliflower’s, carrot’s, what?’
Note: that possessive pronouns like yours, his, hers, ours, its and theirs are not followed by the apostrophe.
2) Using the apostrophe to show there’s a letter or letters missing from a word
There are lots of examples of this. Here’s some we use, without really thinking about them:
- I’m; you’re; we’re — I am; you are; we are
- Don’t, won’t, haven’t, isn’t — do not; will not, have not, is not
- Other sometimes seem to cause confusion:
- Let’s for let us
Common apostrophe mistakes
There are four common cases where it is easy to get confused.
1. It’s has an apostrophe when it means it is. When you want to show possession, the correct form is its.
- It’s a long way to Tipperary
- Every business has its challenges.
2. Who’s stands for who is or who has. When you want to show possession, the correct form is whose.
- Who’s running the company?
- The accountant, whose business was doing well, booked a well-deserved holiday.
3. If you can replace the word with “you are”, then the word you’re looking for is you’re. If you want to indicate that something belongs to someone, you need your.
- You’re going to have a busy month.
- Is this your tax return?
4. They’re stands for they are. The possessive is their. If you want to show where something is, the correct form is there.
- They’re the people who bought our business.
- It’s their business now.
- The business is over there.
Words that sound similar but are spelt differently
- license (v) / licence (n)
- practise (v) / practice (n)
- advise (v) / advice (n)
To get them right, you basically have to know your nouns from your verbs. Remember, English lessons? A noun refers to a ‘thing’ and a verb is a ‘doing word’. Try using this sentence to help you choose the right spelling:
Stop the crocodile.
Any time you want the verb, use ‘s’ — like you do when you say ‘stop’. If you want the noun, it’s a ‘c’, as in crocodile.
license and licence:
He may be licensed to kill, but James Bond was still booked for speeding without his driving licence.
practise and practice:
Mr Jones likes to practise his juggling at his accountant’s practice.
advise and advice:
You can advise people as much as you like but you can’t get them to listen to your advice.
Words that sound similar but mean different things
compliment / complement
A compliment is a nice thing said about someone. For example, if you say, “I like your new advert”, you’re paying someone a compliment. Something that’s given away free is also complimentary.
- Complimentary chocolates with every membership.
Complement has a number of meanings associated with matching or completing.
- She chose red shoes to complement her new dress.
- If you’re ordering business cards, why not choose some complementary letterheads?
stationery / stationary
It’s easy to remember the difference between these two. Just remember ‘e’ is for envelope and ‘a’ is for ‘at a standstill’.
affect / effect
To affect something is to change or influence it.
- The electricity failure affected her business.
Effect has a lot of subtle meanings as a noun, but it mostly refers to something that’s happens as a result of something else.
- The new layout had a positive effect on the magazine’s circulation.
Effect is also a rather formal way of saying to make it happen. (It’s rather stuffy and formal, so avoid it if possible).
- The Government has effected a change in policy.
Most of the time affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
What things do you find confusing or what other tips can you share for spelling something correctly?
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