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6 Mistakes with Words That Make You Look Silly

Kim Brebach - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Words- you are what you say so make it correct

Small glitches with grammar that cause big problems. 

Whatever you write or speak about and whoever your audience, the fastest ways to lose credibility is to make silly grammatical errors. Sure, you might say that content is far more important than a minor grammar slip, but you'd be wrong: little slips can turn into almighty clangers.

Recently, our Prime Minister talked about accomplishing something ‘in one foul swoop’. A minor slip perhaps, but for many citizens it reinforced the suspicion that the PM isn’t quite up to the job. There’s an old saying that ‘great leaders are great readers’, and great readers have a firm grasp on their language.

I’m not talking about intentional errors that make fun of something or draw attention to a problem, or about formality. This is about real mistakes that demonstrate your ignorance, and ignorance is a tough handicap when you’re trying to reach, teach or preach to people. Small slips will make targets opt out of your email list, unsubscribe from your blog or stop visiting your website. Let’s look at the most common errors people make:

Getting lost among similar words

YOUR — your car, your time

YOU’RE — you’re off to work, you’re good-looking

ITS — it’s a great idea and its time has come

IT’S – it’s time to start the meeting

THEIR — their meeting was postponed

THEY’RE — they’re very disappointed

THERE – there will be a morning after

THEN — and then there were three

THAN — three is more than two

LOOSE — I have plenty of loose change

LOSE — I don’t want to lose all my change

FEWER — after the war, there were fewer men

LESS — after the war, people had less money

COMPLEMENT — additive

COMPLIMENT — flattering


Using apostrophes to form plurals is a bad idea, but we often see signs or ads for CD’s and PC’s, Latte’s and Cappucino’s. Apostrophes have two basic functions to abbreviate as in: I didn’t do that. I couldn’t have, yet it’s said that I did. The second function is to indicate possession:

The boy’s soccer game belongs to one boy

The boys’ soccer game belongs to many

The people’s choice (the people is a singular collective noun)

The children’s playground (same)

Names ending in ‘s’ are tricky – here we follow convention

The boss’s temper, but

Alan Jones’ radio program

Compound names and joint possession can also be tricky

Her father-in-law’s house

Susie and Greg’s wedding

Problems with Plurals

We often see written that ‘Microsoft have released a new operating system' or 'Australia have posted the highest score in a one day game' or 'the orchestra have practiced this new piece for weeks'. Microsoft, the Australia cricket team and a symphony orchestra are all single entities, therefore the correct form is: Microsoft has released a new operating system, and Australia has posted …

Even tougher for most people is what follows the word NONE. Most people say: ‘None of them were going to object to this.’ When referring to people, none means no one or not one. So the correct sentence is: ‘None of them was going to object to this. None of these choices appeals to me. I’m sure none of them has ever heard of this.’

Conditional Blunders

In Australia, we often hear this:

‘If I had have known what I know now, I’d be a millionaire’

‘If I had’ve done that, I wouldn’t be here today’

(The US equivalent is ‘had of’)

Correct in both cases is: ‘if I had known … or if I’d known.’

Another thing that gives us real problems down under is the word ‘Drawing’, which most people pronounce ‘Drawring’. For a long time, I wondered where that extra R came from until I heard someone talk about next Febuary. It was a clear case of theft. 


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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