Have you ever posted a link on Facebook to a great article that you spent hours writing, only to have the comments devolve into a debate about your word usage? If not, consider yourself lucky.
The thing about being a social media or content marketer is that when we make mistakes, we make them in front of the entire Internet. And if there’s one thing that people love to do online, it’s call people out. While a certain amount of trolling can (and should) be expected by successful content producers, the problem occurs when those mistakes overshadow the otherwise excellent content you’re putting out there.
If you have a robust content strategy and you write and schedule hundreds of articles each year, missed typos are bound to happen—that’s just math. However, typos are not what will get you in hot water with Internet scolds. Today we’re going to take a look at common grammar and word use errors that really fire people up, and can immediately derail your content efforts.
1. The usual suspects
There are some well-known examples that will really get you scolded online, so let’s get those out of the way right from the start.
- Irregardless is not a word, regardless of how right it may feel when you’re using it.
- The expression is not for all intensive purposes. This usage will make you sound, for all intents and purposes, like a less intelligent writer.
- Same difference means nothing. Instead, say same thing or no difference, but do not create this meaningless mash-up.
2. Apostrophe anarchy
Nothing trips readers up like a misused apostrophe. If they don’t come naturally to you, try to bear in mind that apostrophes are intended to show possession or indicate letters that have been left out. Here are some common examples of apostrophe errors to avoid:
- Incorrect: The 1960’s, the 60’s
Correct: The 1960s, the ‘60s
- Incorrect: Howdy, ya’ll
Correct: Howdy y’all
3. Me, myself, and I
This is an error that occurs in speech more than in writing, but it’s important nonetheless. One easy trick for remembering which one to use is to say the sentence another way and see if what you chose still makes sense. Or, take any other people out of the scenario and see if you would still choose the same word—because you should!
- Incorrect: Sam and me are starting a blog.
Correct: Sam and I are starting a blog (because without Sam, I am starting a blog).
- Incorrect: Please give your forms to Sam or myself.
Correct: Please give your forms to Sam or me (because without Sam, you would just give them to me).
4. A plurality of errors
More items, more problems. It can be tough to remember the proper singular forms of words we most often hear in plural form. Similarly, it’s easy to forget that common plural nouns are in fact plural, and to treat them as if they were singular. Here are three words that are often misused in this way:
- Incorrect: Personality is the main criteria on which we judge candidates.
Correct: Personality is the main criterion on which we judge candidates.
- Incorrect: The national media is responsible for our views.
Correct: The national media are responsible for our views.
- Incorrect: The data does not indicate that result.
Correct: The data do not indicate that result.
5. So close, but so far
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make the biggest difference. A letter here, or a space there, can change the meaning (and the impression you give) entirely.
- A lot means there are many; allot means to give something; alot means nothing at all.
- A compliment flatters someone; a complement makes something else complete.
- Farther refers to a physical distance; further refers to a figurative or metaphorical distance.
- Something imminent is about to happen; something (or someone) eminent is well respected or singular.
- A regimen is a course of treatment; a regiment is an army unit; a regime is an authoritarian government.
6. Homonym hysteria
Words that sound the same, yet are spelled differently, are among the dirtiest tricks in the English language. Here are some of the worst offenders:
- To rain is to precipitate; to rein [in] is to control; to reign is to rule with authority.
- Milk is something you pour over cereal; you might pore over a legal document.
- A roof peaks at the top; a person peeks out the window; a topic piques your interest.
7. For whom the troll trolls
Perhaps the reason people love to scold about the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ is that they were so proud when they finally figured it out for themselves. Here’s simple trick for remembering which to use:
- If the answer would contain “him” then the question should ask “for whom?”
“For whom did you bake the cookies?” “I baked them for him.”
- If the answer would contain “he” then the question should ask “who?”
“Who baked these delicious cookies?” “He baked them.”
8. A crime of capitalization
Nothing drives me more insane than arbitrary capitalization. There are lots of reasons to capitalize words—proper nouns, etc.—but emphasis is not among them. If you find yourself casting about for a way to set certain words off to make them feel more important, consider italicizing or going bold instead. Or, resist the urge entirely, because not everything requires emphasis to stand apart.
- Incorrect: I do a lot of advertising work for Coca-Cola, Restaurants, and Politicians.
Correct: I do a lot of advertising work for Coca-Cola, restaurants, and politicians.
9. Modifier mayhem
Let me be upfront; this one is a personal pet peeve. If you are using a modifier at the beginning of your sentence, make sure the thing that follows the comma is the thing you intended to modify.
- Incorrect: As social marketers, people are more likely to notice our grammar mistakes.
Correct: As social marketers, we are more likely to be mocked for our grammar mistakes.
10. Dash madness
We waited until the end to get really technical, but it had to happen eventually. There are three kinds of dashes in the world, and using them properly will make you seem like an even more reliable source.
- An em-dash is used for an aside; similar to parenthesis:
It’s important to know this—even though it’s boring.
- An en-dash connects ranges:
The Tar Heels beat The Blue Devils 100–98 in a great game. (Yes, I went there.)
- A hyphen is used to connect words:
This article is about often-misused words.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are creating engaging, compelling, high-quality content for your target audience. But if you want your message to be heard by everyone, it helps to say it as clearly and correctly as possible. Did we miss any of your grammar or word use pet peeves? Tell us about them in the comments below!