Grammar and spelling: Why its important

Yes, there’s an error in the headline. Glad you spotted it.

If you didn’t, that’s OK too. Quite often your errors—whether they are typos (sloppy typing like entering “manger” instead of “manager”) or just your subpar grasp of grammar—are glazed over by your readers. The human brain when reading fast will sometimes “fix” the error, so it’s not noticed. Other times it doesn’t; or the reader doesn’t know any better either. And if you’re a manager dashing off memos riddled with errors, you will become an icon of ridicule among your staff (at least the ones whose brains aren’t fixing the mistakes). So, here are some common (and not so common) errors that you may want to pay attention to:

Its vs. it’s. Its is the possessive of the pronoun it. It’s is a contraction for it is or it has. It’s time to give the dog its bath.

Would of, should of, could of? Here’s a gremlin that slips past many writers, readers and spell checkers: “would of” as in “If I knew you were struggling, I would of helped.” It gets through because the contraction “would’ve (would have) sounds like “would of” and slips under lots of radars, even sophisticated ones. Same goes for should of and could of.

Subject-verb agreement. Is it “one of the dogs are howling” or “is howling”? To check your choice of verb, omit the prepositional phrase “of the dogs.” This leaves you with “one … is howling,” the correct choice.

To be or to not be. It’s “to be or not to be.” Shakespeare had it right. Put the “not” before the “to.” Many people will write, for example, “We are asking you to not smoke on company grounds.” The correct way is to write: “We are asking you not to smoke on company grounds.” Incorrect: “I was trying to not laugh.” Correct: “I was trying not to laugh.”

A $2 dollar tip. Bet you didn’t catch the redundancy. The $ (dollar sign) takes care of the word “dollar.” The soda cost $2, or the soda cost 2 dollars (not $2 dollars).

Chew on this awhile. Or is it a while? The general rule is it depends on whether you use the word “for” or “in” before it. For example, “I’ll sit and stay awhile.” But “I’ll sit and stay for a while.” And “I’ll be home in a while.” “Chew on this awhile” is correct.

Beck and call. Not sure if it’s beckon call or beck and call? It really doesn’t matter when you speak it because they both sound the same. But for those of you who write it, it’s beck and call. When you are at someone’s beck and call, you respond immediately, whether he or she beckons (to summon someone by a silent gesture) or calls. Beck is an old-timey term for beckon.

Contraction action. Go ahead, use contractions in your writing. In informal writing, a conversational tone—that is, writing like you speak—engages the reader in a folksy way. But be careful. When in doubt write it out, or you’ll be creating nonsense words like I’d’ve (for I would have) or there’re (for there are) or why’d (for why did).

This, that and the other thing. Be mindful when constructing sentences containing this, that, they, it or which when these pronouns can refer to more than one noun. Vague: “The photo album was found in the attic. It was a real mess.” The reader cannot tell whether “It” at the beginning of the second sentence refers to the album or the attic. Clear: The photo album was found in the attic. The place was a real mess.

Let’s be “sure.” Insure, assure and ensure are just about the most abused and confused trio of words. Here’s the deal: To insure, you need an insurance policy; to assure, you boost the confidence of a person; to ensure, you make certain something happens. Let’s work all three into one sentence. (drum roll) “I assure you my goal is to ensure that you insure your car.”

A complimentary tip. If you’re giving something away free as a little side perk, it’s complimentary (spelled with an “i”). “We’re serving a complimentary breakfast at the seminar.” Use complementary (spelled with an “e”) when you want to express a completion of a set or group. “Those are complementary colors.”

Special affection. Yes, we do have a soft spot for managers. But let’s dig into effect vs. affect. Effect is a noun (usually) as in “special effect” or “your behavior has an effect on the team’s morale.” Affect is a verb as in “raising the price will affect sales.” Effect sometimes can be a verb. “The new boss will certainly effect change here.”

Bring or take? When deciding which of these verbs to use in your sentence, it’s a matter of direction from the perspective of the speaker, at that point in time. For example: “If you’re going on a long walk today, you should take an umbrella.” “We advise you to bring an umbrella when you visit us this weekend.” You would tell your friend: “Take those books back to the library.” The librarian might say: “Bring those books back today.”

Try and remember this. Many people—and you might be one of them—will construct a sentence using “try and …” For example: “Try and find those keys.” What’s wrong with that? It suggests that not only will you try, but you will succeed, which might not necessarily be true. The proper construction: “Try to find those keys.”

Jibe, gibe, jive talkin’. Here’s a threesome that trips many people. Jive: To speak in a way that’s exaggerated or insincere in order to fool or mislead. “I never went to the concert; I was jiving you.” Jibe: To be in harmony, agreement or accord. “His account of the break-in didn’t jibe with the investigator’s evidence.” Gibe: A taunt, jeer or pointed comment. “The comedian ended the show with a gibe at our table.”