Many brilliant people have some communication weak spots. Unfortunately, the reality is that written communication is a big part of business, and how you write reflects on you. Poor spelling and grammar can destroy a professional image in an instant.
Even if your job doesn't require much business writing, you'll still have emails to send and notes to write. And if you're looking for a job, your cover letters and resumes will likely mean the difference between getting the interview or not.
Bad grammar and spelling make a bad impression. Don't let yourself lose an opportunity over a simple spelling or grammar mistake.
Here are seven simple grammatical errors that I see consistently in emails, cover letters and resumes.
Tip: Make yourself a little card cheat sheet and keep it in your wallet for easy reference.
You're / Your
The apostrophe means it's a contraction of two words; "you're" is the short version of "you are" (the "a" is dropped), so if your sentence makes sense if you say "you are," then you're good to use you're. "Your" means it belongs to you, it's yours.
- You're = if you mean "you are" then use the apostrophe
- Your = belonging to you
You're going to love your new job!
It's / Its
This one is confusing, because generally, in addition to being used in contractions, an apostrophe indicates ownership, as in "Dad's new car." But, "it's" is actually the short version of "it is" or "it has." "Its" with no apostrophe means belonging to it.
- It's = it is
- Its = belonging to it
It's important to remember to bring your telephone and its extra battery.
They're / Their / There
"They're" is a contraction of "they are." "Their" means belonging to them. "There" refers to a place (notice that the word "here" is part of it, which is also a place – so if it says here and there, it's a place). There = a place
- They're = they are
- Their = belonging to them
They're going to miss their teachers when they leave there.
Loose / Lose
These spellings really don't make much sense, so you just have to remember them. "Loose" is the opposite of tight, and rhymes with goose. "Lose" is the opposite of win, and rhymes with booze. (To show how unpredictable English is, compare another pair of words, "choose" and "chose," which are spelled the same except the initial sound, but pronounced differently. No wonder so many people get it wrong!)
- Loose = it's not tight, it's loosey goosey
- Lose= "don't lose the hose for the rose" is a way to remember the same spelling but a different pronunciation
I never thought I could lose so much weight; now my pants are all loose!
Lead / Led
Another common but glaring error. "Lead" means you're doing it in the present, and rhymes with deed. "Led" is the past tense of lead, and rhymes with sled. So you can "lead" your current organization, but you "led" the people in your previous job.
- Lead = present tense, rhymes with deed
- Led = past tense, rhymes with sled
My goal is to lead this team to success, just as I led my past teams into winning award after award.
A lot / Alot / Allot
First the bad news: there is no such word as "alot." "A lot" refers to quantity, and "allot" means to distribute or parcel out.
There is a lot of confusion about this one, so I'm going to allot ten minutes to review these rules of grammar.
Between you and I
This one is widely misused, even by TV news anchors who should know better.
In English, we use a different pronoun depending on whether it's the subject or the object of the sentence: I/me, she/her, he/him, they/them. This becomes second nature for us and we rarely make mistakes with the glaring exception of when we have to choose between "you and I" or "you and me."
Grammar Girl does a far better job of explaining this than I, but suffice to say that "between you and I" is never correct, and although it is becoming more common, it's kind of like saying "him did a great job." It is glaringly incorrect.
The easy rule of thumb is to replace the "you and I" or "you and me" with either "we" or "us" and you'll quickly see which form is right. If "us" works, then use "you and me" and if "we" works, then use "you and I."
Between you and me (us), here are the secrets to how you and I (we) can learn to write better.
Master these common errors and you'll remove some of the mistakes and red flags that make you look like you have no idea how to speak.
Read the next articles in this entertaining series:
- More Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb: The Readers Speak
- Modern Grammar – Let's Just Say "They" Instead of "He or She," Shall We?
- 11 Sound-alike Business Words You Might Be Spelling Wrong
- One Space or Two? The Punctuation Battle of Generations
- Which Word is Which? 7 Word Sets You May Use Wrong
More tips for presenting yourself well in writing: