Two of the three Rs are just not a priority anymore.
Here’s the great thing about Microsoft Word. That coloured squiggly line – the one that appears below words and sentences – is a useful warning sign, letting people know they’ve screwed up something. Sure, the software gets it wrong sometimes, but mostly it gets it right. Which is why it’s astounding errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation still saturate business communication.
This is not pedantic, I swear.
If that were the case, this article would be about dangling prepositions (no sentence should end with words like with, to, for, or of). Or this would be about the incorrect use of literally, which recently, perhaps understandably, had its definition changed to accommodate those who can’t use it correctly. Or this would even be about the banishment of commas, made famous by “Let’s eat, grandma” versus “Let’s eat grandma”. Commas, goes the refrain, save lives.
All of that stuff is to be accepted as part of an evolving language that changes throughout the ages. Except that some things shouldn’t change. Such as the appropriate use of apostrophes.
We could excuse the apostrophe violators who get confused with compound nouns and joint ownership. Those are tricky rules. What we can never excuse, however, is the disregard for its versus it’s, such as the email I received telling me “The company wants to use it’s own logo”. It’s the simplest of rules, really. If there’s an apostrophe in it’s, it stands for it is or it has, and nothing else.
“This is an historical event for our organisation,” wrote a client the other day, referring to the launch of a new product line. Let’s put aside, if we can, the incorrect use of historical – which means an event in the past – as opposed to historic, which refers to an event’s importance in the context of history. Let’s concern ourselves instead with the use of the indefinite article: an.
Many people think words beginning with h should be preceded with an rather than a. Incorrect. The sound of the first syllable is what matters, not the first letter. If the first syllable sounds like a vowel, then an is correct – such as an hour. And if the first syllable sounds like a consonant, a is correct – such as a hopeful outcome.
It’s hopeless, though, to mix up affect and effect. The former is usually a verb, the latter a noun. Although the latter, too, can be a verb, but let’s just keep this basic for now. “We’ve had a positive affect on hundreds of customers,” professed a marketing letter I received from a trusted supplier. It was a letter promptly filed in the bin.
The same letter, would you believe, contained a reference to a complementary report I could download from a website. Presumably, the marketers meant a complimentary report, as in free, rather than the complementary that denotes an addition or enhancement to something that already exists.
And then there’s led and lead. “Maria lead the project last year” was a comment I encountered on an email thread. Unless she was involved in the procurement of metallic substances, it’s more likely Maria led the project, since led is the past tense of to lead.
If you don’t mind some nasty profanity, this image is the best overview I’ve seen on the differences between you’re and your, mistakes that no one with a high school education should be making. This one, equally expletive, goes further in educating people on the distinction between than and then,as well as we’re and were, and arguably the most common of faults: there, their and they’re.
Why is this stuff important? Because being loose with the English language, or being lose with it, as many erringly scribe, disrupts effective communication. Once upon a time, this wasn’t so critical since messages were primarily transmitted verbally. But these days there’s an overreliance on email and SMS, and with that overreliance comes a higher risk of misinterpretation and lack of professionalism if we can’t even get the fundamentals right.
Or, heck, maybe I am just being pedantic.
What do you think? Are spelling, grammar and punctuation important?
Follow James Adonis on Twitter @jamesadonis