Archives for May 2013

Ironic Grammar and Spelling Mistakes

Your comment about my grammar or spelling error had a grammer or speling error, my friend.

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Of the comments you all shared, the common thread was a strong opinion about some kind of grammar, spelling, usage or speech mistake that drives you bonkers.

Some of you will boycott a store with an express lane that specifies “10 items or less” rather than “10 items or fewer,” others of us are irked at the never-correct but ever-popular “between you and I,” and some bemoan the rise of the expression “don’t take it personal.”

Most interesting to me in reading the comments as they came in, though, was how many fell victim to a phenomenon that old-timers on the internet are familiar with, even if we may not have known what it’s called.

Welcome to Muphry’s Law.

You read that right. Muphry’s, not Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s Law is the one that says “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Muphry’s law, as you might guess from the clever name, applies a similar concept to typos, grammar and proofreading.

It says that “if you write anything that criticizes someone’s spelling, editing or proofreading, there will be some kind of spelling, editing or proofreading fault in what you have written.”

There are other similar terms for this phenomenon; my favorite is called the Iron Law of Nitpicking which says that “you are never more likely to make a grammatical error than when correcting someone else’s grammar.”

Ain’t that the truth? It obviously is for me.

Here are some of the funniest of the comments that illustrate Muphry’s Law:

  • “You’re kidding, right? This is 4th grade grammer.” I think fourth-grade spelling is next on the agenda.
  • One reader noticed a typo I made (which I fixed, so no need to go hunting for it), but countered with a typo of their own when writing: “I suggest editing the article to say ‘Quality is far more important that quantity’ rather than the current ‘Quality is far more important than quality.'” Can you spot the mistake?
  • This was passionately followed up with another commenter:“Wrong! Quality is fat more important. Get an editor!” Is an editor the one to put quality on a diet?
  • Some took exception to my headline. “Among the most egregious errors is the use of the word “dumb” when you mean “stupid” What was that about glasshouses?” Well, for one, the word “dumb” does indeed mean stupid, and I don’t think I ever mentioned  glass houses, but if I had, it would have been two words. And I’d have put a period at the end of a sentence. It would have gone inside the quote marks around “stupid.” So there.
  • The level of frustration at poor grammar and spelling is high among our readers, but some commenters might want to work on their own writing first. How many errors can you find in this one? “I see poor grammer every where. Accessories is pronounced assessories. leaves and shelves pronounced leafs and shelfs. The your and you’er drives me mad.”
  • One reader shared, “Spelling is quite atrocious and I often wonder what sort of education young people are recieving.” Yes, I agree. Now, go look up how to spell “receiving,” please.
  • In response to my categorization of errors as “bad grammar and spelling” we have the comment that consisted entirely of “duh its poor grammer, bad is a judgement call.” All right then. It is my judgment call that you have misspelled two words in one sentence, used “its” incorrectly, and should have used a semicolon where you put the comma. (Apologies if you are British, where “judgement” is acceptable, so that would would be one spelling error.)
  • One reader offered, “The one that makes my teeth knaw is SEPERATE…. it is SepArate. I see this misspelled even in sophisticated newspapers and magazines. UGR.” I concur with the frustration of people misspelling “separate,” but I’m wondering if perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to know what the heck knaw is. Or UGR.
  • I do appreciate the reader who (very rightly) corrected my error by writing: “…the standars for a blog or a comment in a blog are different FROM printed materials…” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about whether it’s “from” or “than” before, but I researched and learned that 30% of American speakers use “different than” in their speech, versus just 7% who use it in writing. So that’s my defense; I write the same way I talk. I’ll pay better attention from now on, but the point here is that this reader still fell into the grips of Muphry’s Law with “standars.”

I’m not writing this to pick on anyone. I am in awe of the range of comments, and I appreciate every single one.

And of course, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we catch them, and sometimes we don’t. How much time we spend reviewing and editing our work depends on the situation and the acceptable margin of error. Your grocery list has a very wide margin of error. Your resume has a very narrow margin of error.

Occasional mistakes and typos are to be expected with the fast-response and fast-turnaround world of online comments and blogs. The “standars” for a blog are indeed less stringent than the standards for magazines, books or academic papers. Theoretically, blogs are here today and gone tomorrow.

The original point of the first blog in this series, remember, was that sometimes a small mistake can give the wrong impression, and if you’re on the hunt for a job, and it’s down to a very close decision a between you and a candidate who didn’t make any mistakes, that small slip could conceivably change the course of your life.

Nevertheless, the irony of Muphry’s Law is obvious with many of the more vocal complainers making the same mistakes they complain about. Yes, I know that sometimes includes me, too.

Now that you know about Muphry’s Law, I bet you’ll be noticing how often it happens.

Just please don’t let it keep you from commenting here, please. I love reading what everyone has to offer, typos and grammar errors and all.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

Which Word Is Which? 7 Similar Word Sets You May Use Wrong

Check out these commonly misused words that many people confuse.

Next up in the ever-entertaining “Grammar Guru” series (which has taken on a life of its own*) let’s look at some sets of words that are often confused.

Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not an English teacher.

I’m an executive recruiter and job search coach, so my focus is business writing.

All of these next seven sets are words that I regularly see used incorrectly in resumes, cover letters and business presentations.

Does this stuff really matter?

Some people think this is too much nitpicking, and that resumes and business correspondence shouldn’t be held to higher standards than other kinds of writing, like daily email or even this blog.

After all, these are just details. Right? Well, no.

Here’s what you have to understand: Daily email, blogs and other casual correspondence are just that: casual. The same rules don’t apply.

But your resume and presentation are your pitch about you, how you are presenting yourself to the world.

We all know that there’s competition out there. Recruiters and hiring managers have every right to assume that you are putting your very best foot forward when you are applying for a job you want.

Which means that if you send that all-important document with typos and errors, and you work in the business world, that’s a red flag. If that’s your best work, then it could be on to the next candidate.

Will it really ruin your chances if you use the wrong word?

That depends on who reviews your resume and letter. As we see from the hundreds of comments in the other articles in this series, some people either don’t know or they don’t care.

But the people who notice really notice, and they really care.

And that means that in the end, that minor mistake could result in someone else getting that last available interview appointment instead of you.

Subtle differences are almost always the tipping point in a job search.

Do you misuse or misspell these words?

So with that in mind, here we go with seven more word sets that create problems for people in business correspondence.

1. Affect / Effect

Both of these words have to do with influencing, and both have multiple meanings, which is why they’re easily confused. So let’s keep it simple.

Most of the time, “affect” is a verb, meaning to influence (the weather is affecting my mood). It helps to remember that “affect is an action,” because both of those words start with “a.”

Most of the time, “effect” is a noun meaning the end result of something (the special effects in the movies). Note that “effect” and “end result” both start with “e.”

“Effect” can also be a verb meaning to create (I want to effect improvement in my company’s community involvement). This use means “result in” which is stronger than “affect” which simply means to influence.

Monroe’s absence affected the whole team, and in the end, had a negative effect on our profits. We need to work together to effect some changes in how we plan our staffing.

For a more in-depth explanation and another handy memory trick, read what my hero Grammar Girl says about “affect vs. effect.”

2. Farther / Further

“Farther” refers to physical distance. Note the word “far” in it, and if you can ask “how far is it?” then use farther.

“Further” is usually metaphorical and not measurable, for example, looking further into the cost of new office space or wanting the stock price to rise further. It’s considered OK to use “further” to describe distance, too.

Today I walked farther than I’d planned, because need to get my exercise plan going without any further procrastination.

3. Advice / Advise

“Advice” is the noun (and rhymes with dice), and “advise” is the verb (it rhymes with rise).

As a career expert, I advise every client that they should seek advice from people they trust.

4. Fewer / Less

When you’re talking about things that can be counted, say “fewer.” If it’s an uncountable subject, a word that has no plural, or you’re talking about money, time or distance, say “less.”

The other team won’t make the meeting, so we need fewer chairs at the conference table. Please tell the caterer we will need less salad and fewer sandwiches, too. We’ll need to work hard because it’s less than two months to launch.

5. Perspective / Prospective

“Perspective” is a noun meaning a point of view, or a way of regarding situations. It’s also what you call drawing a picture so it shows distance, which is literally a point of view (which is how I remember which word to use, having studied art and perspective).

“Prospective” is an adjective for something in the future that you expect. That’s why a potential customer is called a “prospect.”

From the perspective of a prospective customer, my company’s website is confusing.

6. Discrete / Discreet

When something is “discrete,” it’s separate or distinct. I remember this because the the two “e’s” in the word are separated by the “t” which means they are discrete.

When you are “discreet,” you are being unobtrusive, keeping a secret or avoiding embarrassment.

Unknown to the customer service department, the consultants conducted a discreet survey. They identified three discrete areas where our representatives could do a better job.

7. Complement / Compliment

A “complement” is something that completes or makes perfect. Note that “complete” and “complement” both start with the same six letters.

A “compliment” is when you say something nice to someone, or when you give them something, like complimentary breakfast at the hotel. I remember the spelling of compliment because I like compliments (note all the “I” words).

Please send my compliments to the caterer. This wine is the perfect complement to the salmon, and the complimentary dessert was delicious.

I’m having fun with this series, and am learning new things every day. Please share your comments for future articles. Which wrong-word choices are your pet peeve?

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

One Space or Two? The Punctuation Battle of Generations

How a holdover from the days of typewriters inspires fierce loyalty from the masses.

One space or two?

Why is this even a question? Because it’s a style that has completely changed in the last generation.

A little history:

When books were set by hand, there was a special wider space that was used between sentences. But when typewriters were invented, all the characters were the same size, so creating a wider space required hitting the space key twice.

In the 1980s, computers and digital fonts took over, our word processing or web publishing software programs were created to make the adjustments automatically, and so then we needed just one space after a period.

In fact, using two spaces began to be considered an error in punctuation, which is why if you work in Microsoft Word, you’ll see a green underline that shows an error in grammar or punctuation when you put an extra space after the period.

And when you type into a web program, like the comments section here, the HTML will automatically delete the extra spaces.

Is two spaces always totally wrong?

One of the most eloquent and no-doubt-about-it opinions is from Farhad Manjoo of Slate.com, who wrote that “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, complete, utterly and inarguably wrong.”

He, like me, is surprised at the number of people who still use two spaces, and even more surprised at their misplaced confidence that two spaces is absolutely, positively, the proper way to do it.

Business and personal use are two different things, of course.

I want to make sure you understand where I’m coming from. Yes, I am a grammar, spelling and punctuation nitpicker, but I’m not an English teacher. I’m a recruiter and job search coach.

I’m talking about what is proper in business usage.

Business standard is one space.

In the business world—which includes your business emails, cover letters and your resume—it is important to follow standard usage, and that means one space after a period.

Every style guide will tell you to use one space. Every typographer will tell you to use one space. Every editor will tell you to use one space. Anything you read, including magazines, newspapers, books and websites, has been laid out using one space after a period. It’s simply how it’s done.

And yet, it still seems controversial.

On the personal side, do as you wish.

I’m only talking about business writing here.

Language is an art, and if your art requires putting six periods between every sentence or making everything a haiku poem when you’re writing on your blog or to your favorite Google email list, go for it.

In fact, I write my personal emails in all lower case. I find it faster and it fits my style. But that’s only for personal correspondence, never for business.

There are some style guides for college papers that call for two spaces, but they also call for double spacing between lines, because the style is meant for a teacher to have plenty of room to make comments or edits, not for business or publication.

“But that’s how I was taught and I can’t change.”

One thing is clear: people are freakin’ passionate about their opinion on this one, and the predominant reasoning of the two-spacers is some version of “that’s how I was taught, so that’s what seems right to me.”

I’ve even read comments from school teachers who acknowledge that two spaces is wrong, but still insist on teaching it to their students!

Come on folks, I relearned it, and so can you.

This reminds me of the story of the holiday baked ham recipe, which I heard years ago.

The legend of the family baked ham recipe:

There was a woman who cherished her handed-down-through-the-generations special recipe for holiday ham.

First she’d cut a large slice from each end of the ham, and then she would put it into the roasting pan, dust it with brown sugar and spices, and bake it.

One day, she was teaching her own children how to prepare this family dish, and they asked why she sliced the ends off first.

She realized she had no idea, so she called her mother and asked her if she knew why.

Her mother replied that she did it because her own mother had done it that way, and so together, they called the grandmother.

“Why do we cut the ends off of the ham before we bake it?” they asked.

And the grandmother replied, “Because when I married your grandfather, we were poor and I had just one baking dish, and it was too small for a whole ham, so I had to cut the ends off to get it to fit into the pan.”

And that is how habits are handed down through the generations, and why the “we always did it that way” argument makes no sense.

It’s time to give up the two spaces, people.

Yes, when we typed on typewriters, two spaces was the style. That was then and this is now.

Now we type on software with great typography capabilities, and we don’t have to trick it into leaving a little extra space for readability. It can do it on its own.

Why do I care?

Again, I’m talking about how this comes into play in a job search.

When I review your resume created in Microsoft Word, it shows me green underlines where you’ve insisted on using double spaces after a period, and that distracts me from the actual content.

Even if you send me a .pdf, my eye is trained to read documents, and I can see where an extra space has been left in, whether it’s between words or between sentences.

Those extras spaces catch my eye, and that moment of distraction means that instead of, “wow, this person looks perfect,” I am thinking, “there is a mistake” or “here’s another person who hasn’t learned to do things in the digital age.”

Is it a minor issue? Sure, in the scale of life, it might even be called petty.

But if that petty mistake diverts the attention of someone who’s considering hiring you, that little difference could be a costly choice.

So give it up, and come on over to the one-spacer side.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

11 Sound-Alike Business Words You Might Be Spelling Wrong

You may know how to say these common business words, but do you know how they’re supposed to be spelled?

Continuing on with our lively conversations about grammar and spelling, I’ve been compiling a few lists.

Today, I offer these eleven sets of homophones that I see misused or misspelled in resumes, cover letters and business correspondence.

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, which is why they’re commonly confused.

See if you know the correct choice for these sets of words.

(Did you miss earlier articles in this series? Check out 7 Spelling and Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb.)

 

1. Cite / Site / Sight

Cite is a verb meaning give credit to, as in citing your sources. It’s also what the cop does when you get pulled over for speeding and handed a summons to court, which is a citation. This one is easy if you notice that credit, cop, court and citation all start with “c.”

A site is a place, like a campsite or a web site. Site can also be a verb meaning putting something into place, like siting your new house. One friend remembers this because a web site sits on a server.

A sight is something you can see or observe. When you travel, you see the sights (yes, that’s confusing if you go see battle sites, so you’re technically seeing the site sights).

Let’s go sightseeing to those ancient sites and hope we aren’t cited for trespassing.

2.  Accept / Except

Accept means to take or receive something, like accepting an Academy Award. Note the a‘s in these words.

Except means excluding, so look for the word that also starts with ‘ex‘ on this one.

My boss won’t accept a call from anyone except our attorney today.

3. Forward / Foreword

Forward is a direction toward a place, point or time. It’s the opposite of backward.

A foreword is a short section written at the beginning of a book. It’s easy to remember, because it has the word “word” in it.

The foreword of the book named their work the most forward-thinking business innovation in years.

4. Everyday / Every day

Everyday is an adjective to describe commonplace things or things we use daily as in “my everyday commute route.”

When you are talking about doing something every day, use two separate words. One way to remember is to leave space to insert for  the word “single” for emphasis, as in “every single day.”

Every day I remind my children that keeping a clean desk is an everyday habit worth creating.

5.  Principal / Principle

Principal means highest-ranking or most important, as in the main actor in the play, the head of the school or the main amount of your mortgage loan. One trick I learned in school was to remember that “the principal is your pal.”

Principle is a fundamental truth or rule; the tip to remember this is that the word “rule” also ends with “le.”

The principles of accounting tell us to create separate accounts for payments we make to the loan principal and the loan interest.

6.  Stationary / Stationery

Stationery is paper used for writing. It may be helpful to know that in years past, the merchant who sold books and papers was the stationer, selling stationery.

Stationary means standing absolutely still or unchanging, with nary a move, like a stationary exercise bike, or plane at the gate.

I used stationery from the hotel to write a note to let the gym manager know the stationary bike was broken.

7.  Threw / Through

Threw is the past tense of throw.

Through is for when you’re talking about going in and out of something, like through the tunnel, or working through dinner.

I had to go through a dumpster full of recycling to find the file I accidentally threw out.

8.  Copyright / Copywriter

A copyright is literally the right to copy or license a literary, musical or creative work.

A copywriter is someone who writes copy, usually for advertising or publicity.

The copywriter works on projects for many clients, and rarely owns the copyright on their creation.

9.  Peak / Peek / Pique / Peaked

A peak is a summit or high point.

A surreptitious look is a peek; see how the double “e” in the word “peek” looks like two eyes sneaking a peek?

From the French for prick or sting, pique can be a verb meaning to wound or irritate, or a noun meaning the feeling of resentment or irritation.

And to confuse things further, there is the word peaked, which is pronounced in two syllables, which means tired and drawn.

It piqued me to be excluded from the planning meeting, but my interest was piqued when I peeked around the corner and saw a chart about peak performance awards with my name at the top. I must have looked bad because my coworker said, “Is something wrong? You look peaked.”

10.  Past / Passed

Past refers to time before the current time, such as “in the past” or “past president.” The way to remember is that “time” is a four-letter word, and so is “past.”

Past can also refer to space, such as when you give directions to “drive past the airport exit.”

Passed is the past tense of the word “to pass,” as in “we missed the exit and accidentally passed the airport.”

Once it made it past the recruiter, Jarod’s resume was passed on to the hiring manager, who read it carefully to understand his past position. Unfortunately, the date for submission had passed.

11.  Used to / Use to and Supposed to / Suppose to

This confusion with these is the result of poor enunciation and fast speech so that people who’ve never seen the words written apparently think the phrase is “use to” or “suppose to.”

Say it how you will (though you will sound odd if you enunciate too clearly), but spell it with the “d.”

I used to think that all successful entrepreneurs were supposed to work 80 hours a week.

Obviously, with the unpredictability and variety of English, this is not a complete list. Can you think of any more homonyms you see people confuse when they write?

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

More Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb: The Readers Speak

Our recent article, 7 Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb must have gotten reposted and retweeted somewhere, because the comments section is rather epic, as well as hilarious. With almost 250 comments so far, and counting, it’s a wild ride.

Some of the comments are correct, some are completely off base, some are defiantly (and definitely) clueless, and some are rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-out-loud funny.

In case you don’t have the time or patience to read them all, here are some highlights.

First, there were style complaints.

Some felt I should have said “7 Grammatical Errors” instead of “7 Grammar Errors,” and one person even suggested that it was such a bad choice that it should be on David Letterman. Here’s the deal: I chose the shorter word because it reads better in a headline, and it communicates just as clearly. I also knew it would draw comments. It worked.

Next, there were complaints that just because you make a grammar mistake, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid.

A few thought it was just mean and unfair to say someone is “dumb” or “stupid” because they make an error in grammar or spelling. I understand this, and think I was pretty clear that some brilliant people make some stupid mistakes, but the article is about grammatical errors in business writing that “make you look dumb.” Whether you are actually stupid is not for me to judge.

And there were complaints that anything goes because language is fluid.

Yes, language constantly changes, but written business communication has higher standards than spoken communication. You can say whatever you want when you’re speaking, but if you write for the corporate market, there often is a right way to say it.

Always remember context matters.

Remember, please, I am a career expert, not a schoolteacher. The context of this article is written business communication that might get someone to wondering if you communicate well enough to represent their business.

That said, here are more audience-choice mistakes that seem to drive a lot of people crazy.

  • That / who

I regretted not including this in the first blog, as it really is one of my biggest pet peeves. We want to hire someone who is great at grammar, and we will buy books that we can use for reference. Use the word “who” when you are talking about people, and “that” when you’re talking about objects.

  • Me, myself and I

This one got a lot of enthusiastic complaints about people using the word “myself” in sentences like “You will have a meeting with Bob and myself.” Myself is a reflexive pronoun, and it’s a bit confusing, so I will turn to my favorite source, Grammar Girl, who gives a great explanation about when to use I, me or myself, and when myself can be used to add emphasis, as in “I painted it myself.” But the short answer? Please, never say “You’ll be meeting with Bob and myself.”

  • Should have / should of

I think the problem here is that the words “should have” and “could have” were contracted in spoken English to “should’ve” and “could’ve” and some people now think that means “should of” and “could of.” The correct expression is “should have,” “could have,” or “would have” and that is how you write it out.

  • Pluralizing with apostrophes

The way we make words plural in the English language is usually by adding the letter ‘s’  to the word. So egg becomes eggs and CEO becomes CEOs. Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. Ever.

  • Less / fewer

Fewer is used when you’re talking about something you can count, and less is used for things you can’t specifically quantify. So if you want to weigh less, you will want to eat fewer candy bars.

  • Then / than

This pair got a lot of mention in the other article’s comments section. If you’re confused on this one, “then” refers to the passing of time, and “than” indicates a comparison. First you need to be better than she is, and then you can win.

  • Loan / lend / borrow

This one is kind of tricky. Traditionally, “lend” is a verb and “loan” is a noun. In American English, you go to the bank and ask for a loan, and they lend you money. Or they loan you money, and then you can tell people that they lent you money. Or loaned you money. And now you have a loan to pay off. I told you it was tricky. Our faithful source Grammar Girl has a tip to remember: “loan” and “noun” both have an “o” in them, and “lend” and “verb” both have an “e.”

  • To / too

I didn’t include this because I rarely see it in cover letters, resumes or business correspondence. But apparently others see it a lot, so here you go. “To” means in the direction of, as in They went to the movies. “Too” means in addition to, as in Our daughter came along, too, or to an excessive degree, as in, We left early because it was too hot in the theater. Of course, none of these are the same as the number two. Duh.

By the way, a simple grammar check caught most of the mistakes here. When in doubt, let your software tell you when you’ve got it wrong.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

7 Spelling and Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb

Don’t let these easy-to-fix spelling and grammar mistakes make you look unprofessional.

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.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres

Seven Misused and Misspelled Words

A few “factoids” about often confused words and taking “gorilla” marketing to a new level.

Basic English grammar isn’t very basic, is it?

Our language evolves and changes. We’re constantly adding words from other languages and technology, not to mention that our rules and pronunciations are freakishly inconsistent. (If you don’t agree, try teaching a new student why the words go and to are pronounced differently.)

It’s understandable that misused words, commonly misspelled words and writing mistakes happen.

But in the business world, your professional credibility might be at stake if you misuse any of these often confused words:

Rapport / Report

A report is an account or statement giving the details of a situation or observation. Reports are about information and data.

Rapport is having a personal connection and a feeling of camaraderie or chemistry. Rapport is about feelings. When this one gets mixed up, report is generally pronounced with a silent “t” in an effort to at least mimic the correct pronunciation.

The candidate reported back to tell me that he felt a great rapport with the interviewer.

Angel / Angle

An angel (with a soft g) is a heavenly being. An angle (with a hard g) is a geometric shape where two sides meet, and it’s also a point of view.

If you are a founder of a startup, your top priority will be to find the right angle to pitch to angel investors who have the money you need.

Gorilla / Guerrilla

A gorilla is a great ape found in Africa. A guerrilla is a soldier who fights by taking the enemy by surprise.

Marketers use the term guerilla marketing for their nontraditional methods of finding cheap and unexpected ways to sneak up on customers marketing campaigns. I’m not sure what gorilla marketing is, but if the photo above is an example, it’s probably not a great business idea and bananas are optional.

Jay Conrad Levinson teaches about guerilla marketing campaigns and helping companies get noticed, even if it means having a flash mob of people dressed up in gorilla suits.

Forward / Foreword

Forward is the direction ahead of you and it also means presumptuous or bold. A foreword is that short introductory section of a book that you probably skip past, usually written by someone else who says wonderful things about the author (note the word “word” in this one).

Moving forward with your book launch, it might be a tad forward to ask Oprah to write the foreword since she has no idea who you are.

Alter / Altar

Alter means to modify or change, like when you have the tailor take in your new suit or you ask the accountant to modify the budget you’re submitting in the business plan. An altar is a place where religious rites are performed and where you get married.

Some people seem to worship at the altar of money, and they don’t know that if they alter their values and their lifestyle, they’ll get much more out of life in the long run.

Anecdote / Antidote

An antidote is the medicine you (hopefully) have available when a poisonous snake bites you. If the antidote helps you survive, the funny or entertaining story you tell about it later is an anecdote.

The client said “let me share a little antidote” and I was tempted to ask him if he’d slipped me some poison. At least the anecdote that followed gave me a new joke for my standup comedy act.

Fact / Factoid

Most people think a factoid is a little-known or trivial piece of information but in fact, the word factoid was coined in the 1970s by Norman Mailer. The Washington Times described a factoid as “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact.”

We embedded so many factoids in that ad campaign, we have people convinced that they’ll be healthier if they eat more candy.

In other words, a factoid is a misconception or misrepresentation, not a piece of trivia. If it’s simply something an interesting little tidbit of information, you can just call it a fact or, well, a piece of trivia.

This may be one of those words that’s evolving, but now that you know what it’s supposed to mean, feel free to use it the right way.

Thanks to Leslie Ayres