Grammar Gaffes You Don’t Need to Make


The business world’s consumption of information is moving at an ever faster pace these days. As social media shorthand bleeds onto the digital pages of company emails, business texts, and intranet office boards, the attention to proper grammar seems to be slipping. The truth of the matter, however, is that while we all might be training our brains to understand the new manner of speaking in 140 characters or less, there are still grammatical expectations to be met, at the very least, in the business sphere. Possible employers, company supervisors, headhunters, and coworkers will and do notice bad grammar and they are judging you for it.

While this list is certainly not the whole of common grammar mistakes seen in the business sphere, they are certainly popular. Try to lock down these common mistakes and you’ll be able to hold your head up high under or above a 140-word count missive.

Allot A Lot of Time to Eradicating the Use of "Alot."

This is probably one of the most common blunders people make: writing “alot” or “allot” when what they really mean is “a lot”. When you’re talking about an abundance of something, you’re talking about quantity. Lot is a term used for measurement, so when you say “I have a lot of work to do today” you’re talking about a measurement of work you have to do. If, however, you’re parsing out amounts of something, say minutes to a meeting, you’re “alloting” those minutes (ex. “I’ve allotted 55 minutes to today’s afternoon work session.”). The very popular misspelling of “alot” is, in fact, just that: a misspelling. The word “alot” is not real. So, put simply, don’t use it.

Your words affect those around you and you want the effect to be positive, right?

Using “affect” and “effect” correctly is a common difficulty for many people. So how do you know which word to use when? If you’re comfortable with what nouns and verbs are, then know that “affect” is a verb (it does something) and “effect” is a noun (it is something). If that doesn’t tell you a gosh darn thing, think of it this way: “affect” with an “a” means to do something that causes an “effect” with an “e”. Extending that thought, “a” comes before “e”, so the action (affect) comes before the result (effect).

"If one more advertisement squawks 'Loose Weight Fast,' I might lose my mind."

You’ve seen it all over billboards or in the ad spots in the right rail of a webpage: “Loose 30 pounds in 10 days!” Besides the fact that whatever is being sold probably isn’t the healthiest weight loss method, the fact that the company doesn’t know how to properly use a key word in its market should be extremely alarming. Know this: “loose,” (with double “o”) is an adjective (it describes something). Your pants are loose if they’re too big, or your fence might wobble if the nails are loose. If, however, you mean to talk about the act of misplacing or purposely ridding yourself of something, you want to use the verb “to lose” (with single “o”). You can lose weight (you no longer have excess weight) or you can lose the account (someone else won it).

It’s and Its and Knowing an Apostrophe’s Place.

In English, we commonly use an apostrophe to show possession. For example, to show that a Deathstar lego set belongs to Bob, we’ll say “Bob’s Deathstar lego set.” The apostrophe with ’s’ shows that the lego set is Bob’s.

However, we also use apostrophes to show contractions. Contractions are single words created by shortening two words and joining them together with an apostrophe. For example, “we” and “are” when joined make “we’re”, and “it” and “is” when joined make “it’s.”

Seems simple enough, right? Here’s where a lot of people get confused though. When “its” is acting as a possessive pronoun, there’s no apostrophe necessary. Possessive pronouns are words which stand in for a proper noun and which simultaneously possess something. If the proper noun is Starbucks, for example, the pronoun for Starbucks would be “it”. When Starbucks is in possession of something, however, the pronoun used becomes possessive and so we change the word to “its.” For example, “It’s high time Starbucks charged less for its Spiced Pumpkin Latte."

If it’s still a bit confusing, try this: rewrite your sentence with “It is” in place of whichever it’s/its you’re using and see if the sentence still makes sense. If you can say “it is,” then you want the apostrophe.

And one last thing, apostrophes do NOT signify plural. Double of one grape is not two grape’s or two grapes’: it’s two grapes. Remember: throwing an apostrophe in doesn’t make a word plural.

They’re, Their, and There: The Horror of the Homophones.

While we’re on the subject of contractions and pronouns and all that jazz, let’s cover another common grammar problem: figuring out when to use “they’re,” “their,” or “there.” As we just reviewed, “they’re” is a contraction—the joining of two words (“they” and “are”) to make one shortened word.

“Their” like “her” and “his,” is a pronoun which signifies ownership. For example, “Their coffee is delicious” or “Their company mission statement doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“There” is a pronoun used to describe a location. A quick tip for always keeping this usage clear is that it contains the word “here."

Who/Whom: When Does One Use Which?

Whether your tastes run to Metallica or Ernest Hemingway, in some form or another, you’ve probably heard the phrase “for whom the bell tolls.” We don't typically have much use for that phrase, however, so most likely, our clearest usage of "whom" comes in "To Whom It May Concern," a trusty opening salutation in a formal letter. But when the phrase isn’t obvious, how do you decide which word to use?

If you’re very comfortable with sentence construction, knowing that “who” refers to the subject of the sentence and “whom” refers to the object of the sentence might help. If that’s not very clear, try this: think of “who” and “whom” as you would “he” and “him.” You might not be aware of it, but “he” is only ever used as the subject of the sentence and “him” as the object. That means, if you use “he” or “him” to decipher which who or whom you should use, you’ll be right. For example, “Who is going to the meeting this afternoon?” “He is.” You wouldn't respond "Him is" so you know that you wouldn't use "whom" to phrase your question. Conversely, "Who are you attending the conference with?" can't be answered "I'm going with he" but as "I'm going with him." That means that your question should use "Whom" and, for real grammar sticklers out there, your questions shouldn't end with a preposition. Instead, your question should be "With whom are you attending the conference?"

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Annika Tubito is a freelance writer who splits her time between New York City and Milan. When she's not writing, reading, or wielding her red pen to edit the heck out of something, she's traveling, traveling, traveling. She loves a good grammar argument. Get her riled up.