"Putting down on paper what you have to say is an important part of writing," said Maya Angelou, one of the world's most famous writers. "But the words and ideas have to be shaped and cleaned, cleaned as severely as a dog cleans a bone, cleaned until there's not a shred of anything superfluous."
While writing comes naturally to many people, it's torturous for others. Rules about punctuation, grammar and spelling often get lost in the years between English classes and today's workplace. But clear, concise writing is a skill necessary in any job in any profession. Just remember, while grammar, punctuation and spelling may not be important to everyone, readers may immediately discount the writer's message if errors pop off the page.
Here are 10 frequently confused usage rules in grammar:
- Accept/except — Accept is to receive; except is to exclude.
– I will accept the award.
– He eats everything except apples.
- Affect/effect — Affect as a verb means to influence (avoid use as a noun). Effect as a noun means result.
– Wind affects weather.
– The effect of wind is downed signs.
- Among/between — Between is for two items, among is for three or more.
– The contest is between you and me.
– You must choose among cookies, cake or nuts.
- Annual — An event cannot be described as annual until it has been held at least two consecutive years.
- Ensure/insure — Use ensure when the meaning is to guarantee; insure only references insurance.
– He will ensure they get there on time.
– The policy insures his life.
- Fewer/less — In general, use fewer for how many, less for how much.
– Fewer than 10 people called.
– I had less than $50 in my pocket.
- Its/their — Its is singular, their is plural.
– The city approved its sign ordinance.
– The cities approved their sign ordinances.
- Me/I — Me is an object; I is a subject. "I" never follows a preposition.
– Joan is going with Herman and me. (Hint: Removing "Herman and" and using the wrong pronoun reveals an incorrect sentence: "Joan is going with I.")
– Joan and I are going with Herman.
- That/who — That is impersonal and refers to an object. Who is personal and refers to a person.
– This is a city that gets a lot of rain.
– This is a man who likes rain.
- Your/you’re — Use your as a pronoun; you’re is a contraction of "you are."
– Hang up your clothes.
– You’re going to the bank.
Keep it simple
Overly flowery words can distract readers. Try substituting the word or phrase on the right for one on the left.
|In order to ||To|
|As a result of ||Because|
|At this point in time ||Now|
|It is our understanding that ||We believe|
|With respect to ||About|
| For the purpose of||For/To|
|In the event of ||If|
|In view of the fact that ||Because|