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Poor grammar can torpedo your message and sink your presentation or proposal. Your points may have merit, they might even be brilliant, but your message could miss its mark because of grammatical errors. That’s why today we’re sharing these 6 tips to help ensure your message is not derailed by bad grammar.

1.  Spell-check is not flawless.

Spell-check will come to the rescue if you misspell a word. However, it can’t save you if a word is spelled correctly but misused. It can’t warn you that you put an apostrophe in the wrong place, and it won’t throw up a red flag if you end a sentence with a preposition. It’s not able to tell you which word you should end a sentence with – or (to be grammatically correct) with which word you should end a sentence.

2.  Get a second set of eyes from a proof reader.

How many grammatical errors can you spot in this sentence?

The Johnson’s are a very nice couple in they’re 80’s that just moved into the house next door to my wife and I.

Did you find all 5? The corrections are highlighted here. The Johnsons are a very nice couple in their 80s who just moved into the house next door to my wife and me. Let’s look at the grammatical errors one at a time.

3.  Homophones – just because they sound the same doesn't mean you can use them interchangeably!

They’re going over there to get into their car. The italicized homophones can slip past spell-check. They are misused, not misspelled. There refers to a direction, their indicates possession, and they’re is a contraction for “they are.”

4.  Apostrophes – place them with care!

An apostrophe followed by an “s” shows possession (such as “Johnny Johnson’s car”). It’s incorrect to write “the Johnson’s” when referring to the Johnson family or Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Instead, write “the Johnsons” with no apostrophe. If you’re referring to something that belongs to the Johnsons, the apostrophe comes after the “s” (for instance, “the Johnsons’ car”). Another incorrect use of an apostrophe is with numbers (as in “I’m in my 50’s” or “I grew up in the 1960’s”). Numbers are not possessive, so leave out the apostrophe.

5.  Pronouns – We all love them!

Which of these sentences is correct?

  1. You and I are meeting with the boss today.
  2. The boss is meeting with you and I today.

The first sentence is correct. Here’s an easy way to remember when to use “you and I” and when to use “you and me”. Say the sentence to yourself (in your head) with each pronoun by itself.

Try it with the first sentence. It’s correct because:

  • If you remove “I”, it still makes sense to say “You are meeting with the boss today.”
  • If you remove “you”, it still makes sense to say “I am meeting with the boss today.”

Now try it with the second sentence. It’s incorrect because:

  • If you remove “I”, it still makes sense to say “the boss is meeting with you today.”
  • But, if you remove “you”, it does not make sense to say “the boss is meeting with I today.”

6.  Who and Whom – it concerns them both.

When should you use who and when should you use whom? Here’s a tip to help you remember.

a) Use “who” when it’s the subject of a sentence.

  • Correct: “Who will you take to the game?”
  • Incorrect: “Whom will you take to the game?”

b) Use “whom” with a preposition (with whom, for whom, to whom, etc.)

  • Correct: “With whom are you going to the game?”
  • Incorrect: “With who are you going to the game?”
  • *Incorrect: “Who are you going to the game with?” (*This is a grey area)

It’s grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, but it’s acceptable. The correct way to say it is, “With whom are you going to the game?” but it’s easier to say, “Who are you going to the game with?” Grammar takes a backseat to convenience.

These tips will help “people who need a refresher.” When you refer to a person or people, use “who.” A person is not a “that” or a “which” (insert your own joke about flying brooms here).

Good grammar will not turn a bad message into a good one, but bad grammar can turn a good message into a bad one. Your words have a better chance of being received and remembered when your audience is not distracted by incorrect grammar. For more tips on effective communication techniques, visit our blog archives. 

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