8 of the most common spelling and grammar fails (and how to avoid them)

by | Sep 17, 2019

Look, we all make mistakes! No judgment (or should that be judgement? The jury’s out on that one).

But making spelling and grammar mistakes in your business content can be a problem. Why? They make you look pretty unprofessional and could cause customers to lose faith in the quality of your products or services.

Now, I realise that may sound dramatic. And while I’m not known as a drama queen, I take grammar very seriously. 

So, could it be time to clean up your copywriting act? I’ve pulled together eight of the most common spelling and grammar mistakes I see regularly in businesses’ online and offline content. Plus, I’ll let you know how to avoid them in future. 

And while I would never name and shame, these errors are so frequently committed my red pen would run out in a matter of minutes if I could realise my ultimate goal in life of correcting every typo on the internet. 

Rather than making enemies by notifying people of these grammatical gaffes, I thought it may be helpful to highlight them here. If you find it difficult to differentiate between commonly confused words, read on.

After all, while my days of correcting friends’ Facebook typos are long gone (apologies if you fell victim to that cruel campaign), business content is something you really do want to be correct. Unlike your holiday picture captions (thanks for uploading all 459 of those), your website wording, press release prose or business blog will be weighed up by existing or potential customers. The very people who are comparing you to your competitors and looking for any reason to discount you and go with the alternative.

So while I reiterate drama really isn’t my thing, you can see why words are the exception to that rule.

Read on to find out which are my eight most commonly seen spelling and grammar mistakes. Then discover how easily you can avoid them (and help me sleep at night). 

Should it be than or then?

The word than is a preposition used to compare something to another thing, e.g. “Oasis are better than Blur” (just to show my age). It’s also used in comparisons as a conjunction, e.g. “she is younger than I am” (also likely to be true).

Meanwhile, the word then always relates to time. Confusingly, it can be used as either an adverb, a noun or an adjective. When using then as an adverb, you could say “I ran much faster, then” to refer to a previous point in time. Or, using then as a noun would appear like “let’s go to the park then”, to imply an understood point in time. 

Using then as an adjective sees it appear before a noun. For example, “my then boyfriend” would refer to a boyfriend someone had at another point in time, which relates to a story being told about that period. 

The main thing to remember is that than is a comparison, while then describes time.

What’s the grammar gripe with affect and effect?

The difference between affect and effect is misunderstood by many and you can see why. The wonderful English language is full of idiosyncrasies, and it sometimes feels like it was designed to confuse us.

However, help is at hand as I will now explain the difference between affect and effect

In the simplest terms, affect is a verb, while effect is a noun. 

Therefore, examples of how to use affect and effect effectively (sorry), would be as follows. “This blog is starting to affect my sanity”, and “this blog is having an effect on my sanity.” In this instance, affect is the doing word and effect is the noun, or the name for what is happening.

One way to remember the difference is by associating the a in affect with a for action, so you can link it to the fact it’s always going to be a verb (that’s a doing word, for anyone who passed notes through GCSE English).

Still confused? Top tip alert – just use the word impact instead, as it works for either situation and saves you a headache.

Am I spelling it practise or practice?

Once again, we find ourselves with a verb and noun doing battle to confuse us as much as possible. Again, these two share all but one of the same letters and sound EXACTLY THE SAME.

So WTF is the difference between practise and practice?

The word practise is a verb, so you’ll only ever use it if you’re practising doing something. For example, “I need to practise my spelling and grammar”. 

On the other hand, the word practice is a noun which refers to the name of something, like a doctor’s practice or tennis practice. Just don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to explain you’re going to practise your downward dog at yoga practice, because I’ve now typed both so many times they no longer look like real words.

Do I lose customers through loose grammar?

Is this blog making you lose the will to live? Or making you think you’ve been playing it fast and loose with your grammar?

The difference between lose and loose is one many people fail to grasp, so let’s lay it out to avoid any further confusion.

We’ll start with lose, which is a verb meaning “to misplace”. When pronounced, it sounds like it should have a double o to create the “oo” sound. But trust me, it doesn’t – so you don’t loose weight, you lose weight (and you don’t need to anyway, you look great).

The word loose, meanwhile, is an adjective which means baggy. So your trousers might be loose, just make sure you don’t lose them (awkward).

Should I definitely spell it defiantly?

I blame autocorrect for the rise in people texting defiantly instead of definitely. Clearly, we’re a highly definitive bunch of people, as I see this grammatical mistake so often, yet it means something completely different.

As we know, definitely means “without any doubt”. For example, “I definitely need to spell everything in this blog correctly” (can you imagine how embarrassed I’ll be if I don’t?).

Conversely, defiantly means “in a manner that shows open resistance or bold disobedience”. Are you really that naughty? If you are, then good for you and as long as your defiance is justified and lawful, I support that. You can use it correctly like so: “she defiantly refused to accept she was wrong about her spelling”.

However, if you’re not trying to be controversial and you just want to communicate your certainty, there’s no need to do it defiantly. 

Can I learn to make less or fewer grammar errors?

OK, so the difference between less and fewer is one of my personal bugbears. However, so many huge brands mix it up I definitely don’t hold it against anyone else. 

Both less and fewer are the opposite of more, with a subtle difference. While less means “not as much”, fewer means not as many. Use fewer if it’s countable, and less if it’s not.

The biggest culprit in confusing less and fewer is the supermarket industry, asking us to check out “10 items or less” . This is grammatically incorrect. Why? Because if the items can be counted, we should use fewer. For example, “I ate fewer crisps than you” (which is usually the case) or “she has fewer shopping bags than me” – not then 😉 

We use the word less to describe something which can’t be counted, like “there’s less choice in this shop” or “I have less space in my new office.”

(M&S – call me).

What’s the difference between your and you’re?

Ah, the original and best grammar mistake committed in the English language. Put simply by Ross Geller:

“Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E means you are. Y-O-U-R means your!”

The easiest way to decipher the difference between your and you’re is to ask yourself if you could say “you are” instead of “your” in the sentence in question. 

If you can, it’s “you’re”, e.g. “you’re so good at spelling and grammar”. 

Can’t change it to you are? Then it is going to be “your”. For example, “your hair looks amazing” (it does btw).

Have I been spelling quiet quite badly?

Honestly, I’m quite sure this is one of the most common grammatical errors I’ve seen online and I refuse to keep quiet about it.

And while I’m pretty sure this one is mostly a typo, I’ll explain just in case.

The word quite is an adjective used to describe nouns, meaning either completely, or just a bit (thanks again English language for being so crystal clear). For example, “this blog is quite useful” or “I’ve had quite enough of grammar for one day”.

Unlike the word quite, the word quiet means devoid of sound or noise, as in “it’s oh so quiet, ssssh, ssssh” or “please be quiet and stop banging on about grammar” (which I get a lot).

So I’ll shut up about this one as long as you don’t mix them up again, OK?

How to make fewer (not less) spelling and grammar mistakes

There we have it, my lowdown on the most frequently committed sins against spelling and grammar. Hopefully, this has helped you identify common mistakes you might have been inadvertently making in your online and offline marketing content. Or, maybe it’s reassured you that you’re a grammar guru who doesn’t need any help in this department.

But if all of the above feels about as clear as mud, the easiest option may be to call on a professional copywriter or proofreader to ensure you’re not risking any of these common spelling and grammar mistakes in your business content.

If that’s the case, hit me up by emailing wordsbyali@gmail.com or calling 07395 128493 and let’s see if my red pen and I can be of service to your business. 

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