Outage

10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid

Sending a less-than-perfect e-mail to a friend is one thing; mistakes aren't really a problem. But if you want to craft an error-free message that reflects your professionalism, be on the lookout for these common grammatical slip-ups.

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These days, we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do verbally. Often, we're in a hurry, quickly dashing off e-mails with typos, grammatical shortcuts (I'm being kind here), and that breezy, e.e. cummings, no-caps look. It's expected. It's no big deal. But other times, we try to invest a little care, avoiding mistakes so that there's no confusion about what we're saying and so that we look professional and reasonably bright.

In general, we can slip up in a verbal conversation and get away with it. A colleague may be thinking, Did she just say "irregardless"?, but the words flow on, and our worst transgressions are carried away and with luck, forgotten.

That's not the case with written communications. When we commit a grammatical crime in e-mails, discussion posts, reports, memos, and other professional documents, there's no going back. We've just officially gone on record as being careless or clueless. And here's the worst thing. It's not necessary to be an editor or a language whiz or a spelling bee triathlete to spot such mistakes. They have a way of doing a little wiggle dance on the screen and then reaching out to grab the reader by the throat.

So here we are in the era of Word's red-underline "wrong spelling, dumb ass" feature and Outlook's Always Check Spelling Before Sending option, and still the mistakes proliferate. Catching typos is easy (although not everyone does it). It's the other stuff -- correctly spelled but incorrectly wielded -- that sneaks through and makes us look stupid. Here's a quick review of some of the big ones.

#1: Loose for lose


No: I always loose the product key.

Yes: I always lose the product key.

#2: It's for its (or god forbid, its')


No: Download the HTA, along with it's readme file.

Yes: Download the HTA, along with its readme file.

No: The laptop is overheating and its making that funny noise again.

Yes: The laptop is overheating and it's making that funny noise again.

#3: They're for their for there


No: The managers are in they're weekly planning meeting.

Yes: The managers are in their weekly planning meeting.

No: The techs have to check there cell phones at the door, and their not happy about it.

Yes: The techs have to check their cell phones at the door, and they're not happy about it.

#4: i.e. for e.g.


No: Use an anti-spyware program (i.e., Ad-Aware).

Yes: Use an anti-spyware program (e.g., Ad-Aware).

Note: The term i.e. means "that is"; e.g. means "for example." And a comma follows both of them.

#5: Effect for affect


No: The outage shouldn't effect any users during work hours.

Yes: The outage shouldn't affect any users during work hours.

Yes: The outage shouldn't have any effect on users.

Yes: We will effect several changes during the downtime.

Note: Impact is not a verb. Purists, at least, beg you to use affect instead:

No: The outage shouldn't impact any users during work hours.

Yes: The outage shouldn't affect any users during work hours.

Yes: The outage should have no impact on users during work hours.

#6: You're for your


No: Remember to defrag you're machine on a regular basis.

Yes: Remember to defrag your machine on a regular basis.

No: Your right about the changes.

Yes: You're right about the changes.

#7: Different than for different from


No: This setup is different than the one at the main office.

Yes: This setup is different from the one at the main office.

Yes: This setup is better than the one at the main office.

#8 Lay for lie


No: I got dizzy and had to lay down.

Yes: I got dizzy and had to lie down.

Yes: Just lay those books over there.

#9: Then for than


No: The accounting department had more problems then we did.

Yes: The accounting department had more problems than we did.

Note: Here's a sub-peeve. When a sentence construction begins with If, you don't need a then. Then is implicit, so it's superfluous and wordy:

No: If you can't get Windows to boot, then you'll need to call Ted.

Yes: If you can't get Windows to boot, you'll need to call Ted.

#10: Could of, would of for could have, would have


No: I could of installed that app by mistake.

Yes: I could have installed that app by mistake.

No: I would of sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.

Yes: I would have sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.

Bonus peeve


I'll just throw one more thing out here: My current burning pet peeve. At some point, who knows when, it became common practice to say that something is "hit and miss." Nuh-UH. It can't be both, right? It either hits or it misses... "Hit OR miss." Granted, it's a small thing, a Boolean-obsessive sort of thing. But it's nonetheless vexing because it's so illogical. Okay, that's mine. If you've got a peeve of your own, share it in the discussion (or post a comment and tell me to get over it).

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

2 comments
donax
donax

This was an excellent and easy way to demonstrate common errors.

That one is mine, yours, this one is his, or hers - and then: its? The one over there is John's?

No we really do have to find another way to remember its and it's. When you draw together "it is" you must obviously indicate the omission (elision) with an apostrophe. The other one, get the package and read its documentation, is an inflection of a pronoun (YES I know it is much more hairy!)

Contrary to Cheesus I think that confusing its and it's is a serious error, showing lack of knowledge of verbs. There are indeed urban dialects of English which do not use "is" and "are", because they can not hear them in the common pronunciation.

I think we need to state that i.e. means (latin) "id est" == that is, and e.g. means "example given" == here is an example.


Cheesus
Cheesus

I do not believe that the second one makes you look stupid. It is an easy mistake to make and someone thinking that you are stupid for doing it could be considered highly critical. The reason why people make the mistake is because the apostrophe is used to imply possession in most cases.  In the case of "its" and "it's" you do not use the apostrophe to indicate possession (which you are correct in stating). Many writers have not studied all of the finer details of the English language so they will miss little rules like that. It is forgivable but a good proof reader would spot it.


The other 9 you mentioned were obvious mistakes that no amateur writer should really be making, let alone a professional one. Also, many of these are spelling mistakes and not grammatical mistakes. Things like "loose" in place of "lose" or "then" in place of "than" are definitely spelling mistakes (and are occasionally a typo). If you use "effect" in place of "affect" then that could be considered a grammatical error. Also, "should of" is a grammatical error (which you have correctly stated above).