When you hear the word grammar does it bring back memories of a high school teacher and perhaps make you cringe a bit? Many people associate grammar with errors circled in red ink on a term paper. Thanks to my ninth grade English instructor, Miss Marie Shea, I learned that grammar is much more than a set of pesky rules, but instead serves as a path to ensuring clarity of communication.
Whether you are writing content for a social media post or preparing an email for your co-workers, one important goal is to establish rapport with your audience—to be reliable and relatable. Once that is accomplished, you can set the stage for understanding and persuasion to take place. If your writing contains grammatical errors, however; it can diminish your message and even damage your credibility.
Seven common trouble spots
To ensure that your writing is always clear, professional and persuasive be sure to watch
for these pairs of common words that are
Complementary and complimentary: Complementary means to fill out or complete or to mutually supply. Example: The two businesses joined forces because they have complementary goals. On the other hand, complimentary means free or the expression of praise or admiration. Examples: The firm provided complimentary football tickets to several of its customers. The owner appreciated the complimentary remarks about his
Who and that:The pronoun who is correct when writing about humans or animals with a name. Example: The coach introduced the player who made the game-saving tackle. Use that when referring to inanimate objects or to animals without a specific name. Example: The company that invented the life-saving device earned an award.
Fewer and less: When referring to individual items, choose the word fewer. Example: She saw fewer than eight cars in the parking lot. Use the word less when discussing bulk or quantity. Example: The traveler had less than $50 in his billfold when he returned from the long trip.
Further and farther: When writing about physical distance, farther is the correct choice. Example: She drove farther along the coastline. In contrast, when mentioning an extension of time or degree, the term to use is further. Example: The police department looked further into the possible connection between the two crimes.
Among and between: In nearly every case, between is used with two items. Example: The customer was trying to decide between the white and gray colors. Among is the correct choice with more than two items. Example: The voters were selecting a winner from among three challengers for the position. There is an exception to this rule, however. (I never said the English language was easy!) Between is the correct word to show the relationship of three or more items when they are considered as a pair. Here’s an example: The conversation about student discipline was taking place between the superintendent and the elementary, middle school and high school principals.
Then and than: Use then if you are indicating a sequence of events. Example: We reviewed the budget, and then we met with employees to review the numbers. The word than is for making a comparison. Example: This copy paper was more expensive than the previous package.
Since and because: Since refers to time. Example: I’ve been in line since 6 a.m. Because describes the reason for something. Example: I got in line early because the tickets were sure to sell out quickly.
Before you finish
Once your copy is written and you have used spell check and proofed the document, be sure to read it out loud – it’s amazing what errors or unclear words you will detect that went unnoticed previously. This is also an excellent method for “hearing” any words that you may repeat too often or to discover any vague or confusing terminology.
Finally, a new perspective is very helpful because, for some reason, it’s always easier to see someone else’s mistakes. Ask a co-worker to review your content for clarity as well as any needed corrections before posting or sending; you will be glad you did.
To read more on why good grammar matters: