by Anna Post
The New York Times runs a column called "After Deadline" by Philip B. Corbett, that analyzes incorrect usage of the English language through examples that mistakenly made it into the paper. It's a great to brush up on your skills, and this week's was very apropos to a subject whose (not who's) importance I can't stress enough: grammar.
I teach communication etiquette as a core part of almost every business etiquette seminar I'm hired to conduct. In this segment, we cover how to communicate in business--whether it's (not its) with email, snail mail, cell phones, BlackBerries, regular ol' telephones, voice mail or even...in person. Shocking, I know.
There (not they're) is a portion of the email segment where I stress the need for your writing to represent you well--it's an extension of your (not you're) image. Use of correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, salutations and closings all play a part in this.
If respecting the English language isn't reason enough to invest in good grammar, then allow me to offer this food for thought: When there (not their) is a mistake present, that is where the recipient's focus goes; not to the good information the sender wanted to convey. Distractions in business can affect (not effect) our bottom line; it's worth investing in skills that keep the focus on advancing our message, and thus our productivity.
This week's column, titled "Words to Watch", explains the difference between some common words, such as affect and effect and principal and principle. It also examines some more obscure confusions, such as between abjure and adjure. I would like to add a few other common words to watch out for in your writing; after all, spell check won't pick these up, and grammar check is, in my experience, dicey at best.
It's vs. its. The first is a contraction of "it is", the second is possessive (belonging to it).
Who's vs. whose. Who's is a contraction of "who is", and whose is a possessive of "who" (i.e., "Whose pencil is that?").
There vs. their vs. they're. There is a place. Their is possessive (belonging to them). They're is a contraction of "they are".
I made a mistake recently with the last one--I used there when I should have used their. I know the difference, but was typing answers quickly on a Washington Post live online chat, and posted my answer before rereading it. It was too late to fix, and people noticed and wrote in about it. Not the impression I wanted to make--especially when I do know better.
It just goes to show that even professional writers don't get it right all the time. That's why I like Mr. Corbett's column: Hopefully I'll learn to avoid future mistakes, and if not, at least I know I'm in good company!