I’m a self-proclaimed #wordnerd. As a marketing communications professional, my days are built with words – crafting them into award-winning web content, drafting complex white papers and writing engaging eBooks and case studies.
And editing, oh the editing – self-editing, editing others’ work and even editing published work that I read. (You would be SHOCKED at the number of errors that slip into printed materials.)
All of this writing – and editing – and Punctuation Day prompted me to look more closely into common word choice goofs that trip up even the smartest among us. And while grammar rules are relaxing, there are things that we should all refuse to accept in our writing (like “irregardless” being an acceptable word).
So get those red pens ready, and let’s dive into some of my (least) favorite offenders.
- Your v. You’re. I see this common mistake over and over on social media. “Your” is possessive – the item belongs to you; “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” Unsure which to use? A good rule of thumb is to substitute “you are” in the sentence. If it doesn’t make sense, use “your.” You’re welcome.
- Peek v. Peak v. Pique. Le sigh. This set of homonyms trips writers up more often than uneven sidewalks. “Peek” is to look at something; “peak” is the top, as of a mountain or physical condition; “pique” is to excite or wound, as in “pique someone’s interest.” Please, fellow writers, you cannot “peek” someone’s interest or get a “sneak peak” of a product.
- Home In v. Hone. Yes, it’s true – we grammar gals get into discussions about proper word usage around the office, and “home in” v. “hone” was one of the latest examples. “Home in” is to move toward something like a target; to “hone” is to sharpen, as in a skill or knife blade. I’ve seen the two mixed as “hone in, ” which is wrong on several different levels.
- Affect v. Effect. Determining the difference between these two can be a doozy. “Affect” is a verb, so we’d say, “Several days with little sleep are adversely affecting me.” “Effect” is a noun, which we’d use like, “The medication’s side effects are worse than this cold.” Simply take a closer look at the parts of speech in the sentence when deciding whether you need an “a” or an “e.”
- Who v. That. This simple rule of thumb often gets overlooked, especially on TV. When you’re referring to a person, use “who;” for example, “My mom is someone who doesn’t even know how to text” (true story). When referring to an object, use “that;” for example, “Your car is the one that we always take on road trips because of the great gas mileage.”
- Myriad. “Myriad” means “many,” so please, for the love of all the puppies and kittens in the world, stop using the phrase “a myriad of.” You wouldn’t say “a many of,” would you?
- Since v. Because. I see this all the time, and grammar rules have relaxed on this word choice. “Since” denotes a period of time; “because” means “due to.” The two are used interchangeably just about everywhere these days, but clearly, they don’t mean the same thing.
- EDT v. EST. I saved one of my biggest personal pet peeves for last. As someone who works with people in multiple time zones, it’s necessary to denote Eastern v. Central v. Pacific when arranging meetings. I often see “Eastern” shortened to “EST” year ’round, which is an abbreviation for “Eastern Standard Time.” It should be “EDT” for “Eastern Daylight Time” for at least half the year. I get it, standard and daylight-saving time are confusing, so just go with “ET” to keep it simple. BONUS TIP: Per AP Style, it’s “daylight-saving time” – note the hyphen and singular “saving.”
Our fast-paced business world lends itself to the occasional typo sneaking into our work (it’s highly likely – and surely karma – that there’s at least one typo in this very blog). We can take steps to avoid those with careful proofreading, but knowledge is power, and properly using tricky words can eliminate unnecessary confusion. So when writing your next masterpiece – be it blog, byline or email – stop for a little grammar time.
Share some of your favorite grammar pet peeves below!