The surest way to diminish your company’s otherwise sharp business communication is to pepper your presentation with simple grammar errors. Nothing causes a client to discount your message more quickly than to spy one of these top ten common mistakes in your letter!
This list provides an easy path toward keeping your business colleague’s attention on what’s important: your underlying ideas. Dust off your grammar school rules and clean up your correspondence by avoiding these top ten errors:
1. ITS OR THEIR?
Mistake: The practice of this management company is to have each corporate tenant sign their lease on the third day of the month.
Correction: The practice of this management company is to have each corporate tenant sign its lease on the third day of the month.
Alternative Correction: The practice of this management company is to have all corporate tenants sign their leases on the third day of the month.
Why: Be careful not to switch from singular to plural mid-sentence, or vice versa. “Tenant” is singular and calls for the singular “its.” “Tenants” corresponds with the plural “their.” Words like “its” and “their” need to agree with the words such as “tenant” and “tenants” to which they refer.
2. IT’S OR ITS?
Mistake: Energy Electronics is introducing it’s brand new line of heating units at the convention.
Correction: Energy Electronics is introducing its brand new line of heating units at the convention.
Why: Use an apostrophe in “it’s” only when you mean “it is.” “Its” without an apostrophe describes ownership, such as “its bond offering”.
3. WHO OR WHOM?
Mistake: We will award free parking to the employee who the personnel director selects.
Correction: We will award free parking to the employee whom the personnel director selects.
Alternative Correction: We will award free parking to the employee who is selected by the personnel director.
Why: One trick to help you decide which word to use is to substitute “he” for “who” and “him” for “whom.” Just rearrange the part of the sentence in question — all the words following “employee” — and say it aloud with “he” or “him” to figure out whether to use “who” or “whom.”
4. IS BECAUSE?
Mistake: The reason that our stock price fell is because third quarter earnings were low.
Correction: The reason that our stock price fell is that third quarter earnings were low.
Alternative Correction: Our stock price fell because third quarter earnings were low.
Why: Avoid “is because.”
5. GOOD OR WELL?
Mistake: We are pleased to report that the mutual funds performed good this fiscal year.
Correction: We are pleased to report that the mutual funds performed well this fiscal year.
Why: “Good” is an adjective, and “well” in this context is an adverb that explains how the funds performed. Although the funds themselves may be called “good,” the point here is to describe how they performed, and the word is “well.”
6. DISTANCE, MONEY, AND TIME?
Mistake: Six miles are the distance between the home office and the satellite office.
Correction: Six miles is the distance between the home office and the satellite office.
Why: Though plural in form, “six miles” is considered one unit of measurement, and thus the verb should be “is.” The rule for distance holds true for money (“five dollars is a low price”) and time (“forty hours is a long time”) as well.
7. THAN SHE OR HER?
Mistake: Despite the high esteem in which I hold Ms. Jones, I believe that Mr. Smith is more familiar with the company’s cash disbursements than her.
Correction: Despite the high esteem in which I hold Ms. Jones, I believe that Mr. Smith is more familiar with the company’s cash disbursements than she.
Why: Imagining the unwritten words that complete the sentence makes it easy to choose between “her” and “she.” Here, the implied sentence ending is “she is familiar.”
8. COMMON OWNERSHIP?
Mistake: The third driveway on the right is Kane’s and Abel’s office.
Correction: The third driveway on the right is Kane and Abel’s office.
Why: Only if Kane and Abel have two separate offices are they entitled to two separate possessive endings. The context of the sentence tells you that Kane and Abel share one office, and thus the sign of possession, the apostrophe with an s, follows the second name only.
9. WORD PLACEMENT?
Mistake: Deciding to purchase a piece of real estate, an agreement was negotiated by the buyer and seller.
Correction: Deciding to purchase a piece of real estate, the buyer negotiated an agreement with the seller.
Why: Here, the agreement did not decide to purchase a piece of real estate; the buyer did. It thus makes sense to place the word “buyer” nearer that opening phrase. Placing the words in a logical order generally leads to a proper grammatical result.
10. PARALLEL STRUCTURE?
Mistake: It is important that franchisees understand not only the product, but also market it appropriately.
Correction: It is important that franchisees not only understand the product, but also market it appropriately.
Why: Always follow “not only” with the same kinds of words that follow “but also.” The goal is to create a balance so that the words after “not only” are parallel to the words after “but also.” Fixing this grammatical error is usually as simple as moving the place of either “not only” or “but also” in the sentence.
If you found these tips helpful and would like ten more grammar tips, let me know!
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