Last week we talked about some words that are commonly misused and how using a word incorrectly can undermine your credibility in the workplace. While vocabulary issues are a common pitfall in professional communication, written communication is even trickier. Since nearly all written communication is electronic now, spell check and auto-correct have all but eliminated spelling errors. However, there are several words which are commonly incorrectly interchanged in writing; these errors are typically overlooked by spell check since they’re real words, simply used in the wrong context. These types of errors are particularly common for non-native speakers, but all too often they appear in the writing of native speakers as well. Take a look at our four common written errors and make sure your writing is as professional as you are!
then / than
- “Then” is usually used in reference to time or order. For example, “I went to the meeting first, then I went back to the office.” It can also be used in “If…then” statements: “If you miss this meeting, then you might have to come in early tomorrow.” It can also be used to refer to a specific time: “She wanted to apologize for her behavior, but by then it was too late.”
- “Than” is typically used for comparisons. For example, “Her office is much bigger than his office,” or, “They run their meetings differently than we do.” It is also sometimes used with “rather” to make a construction similar to “instead of”: “Rather than calling him, she chose to send an e-mail.”
affect / effect:
- Most of the time, “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. For example, “His lateness affected his performance,” vs. “His lateness had a negative effect on his performance.” A good way to remember this is a verb is an action word, and both “action” and “affect” start with A.
they’re / their / there:
- “They’re” is a combination of they and are, and is only used in situations in which those two words would be appropriate. For example, “They are not here today,” could be rewritten as “They’re not here today.”
- “Their” is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. For example, the sentence “Rob and Sarah’s presentation was fantastic,” may be rewritten as, “Their presentation was fantastic.”
- “There” demonstrates location. For example, “My cell phone is way over there.”
your / you’re:
- “Your”, like “their”, is a possessive pronoun, and is used to show ownership. For example, “Your contract will be ready by tomorrow.”
- “You’re” is a contraction of the two words “you” and “are”. For example, “You are a great speaker,” could be rewritten as “You’re a great speaker.”
Stay tuned! Next week we’ll be back with more errors that may be hiding in your writing and damaging your professional credibility.
If you have questions or are interested in improving your communication skills, give me a call at 212-308-7725 or send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have!
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