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Friday, August 24, 2012

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
— William Strunk Jr.
in Elements of Style

Do you write for your company? Newsletters? Emails? Grants? Copy for collateral? If so, then everything you write reflects upon the company. Our words, both spoken and written, create images that either build or hurt our brand.

Good grammar can instill confidence in your customers and employees. We all make mistakes, but don't worry that the Grammar Police will arrest you or fire you. Just pay attention to what you write before you send it out.

Below are a dozen words that are commonly used incorrectly. Just a quick review of your writing can avoid embarassing mistakes. Feel free to print this out and keep it by your computer for future reference.  

1. The verb “accept” means “to receive” or “to believe”. The preposition except means other than. The conjunction means “unless” and the verb means “leave out.”

a. Tim accepted Jeff’s reason for being late for work.

b. Everyone – except Chris and his supervisor – had remembered to switch to daylight savings time.

c. Only in rare cases are employees excepted from the policy on punctuality.

2. Adverse means “hostile, unfavorable, or harmful.” Averse means “to have a definite feeling of distaste.”

a. Adverse weather conditions grounded all airplanes.

b. The tired staff was averse to the idea of working till midnight.

3. Advice is a noun that means “recommendation or information” and advise is a verb meaning “to counsel or recommend.”

a. Ralph advised me to value good advice.

4. Affect is a verb that means “to influence.” As a noun, effect means “the result”; as a verb it means “to bring about.”

a. Your performance in the coming year will directly affect the amount of your bonus.

b. The effect of the economy is hard to predict.

c. The new procedure will effect significant savings in time and cost.

5. Anxious indicates that one is worrying; eager, that one is gladly anticipating something.

a. Sarah has never been anxious about speaking in public, but she was eager to play the old hag in Snow White last month.

6. Beside is a preposition that means “next to.” Besides is an adverb that means “in addition to.”

a. Put the file cabinet beside the desk.

b. Besides the new cabinet, we need a new computer.

7. Complement means “to complete or go well with.” Compliment means “to give praise.” Both words can also be used as nouns. The adjective complementary means “serving to fill out or complete.” Complimentary means “given free as a favor.”

a. That was a nice compliment for a job well done.

b. A fine grape jelly is a complement to any peanut butter.

8. A conscience gives one the capacity to know right from wrong. Conscious means “awake or alert, not sleeping or comatose.”

a. Your conscience will guide you.

b. Earl needs two cups of coffee to be fully conscious at this hour.

9. Imply means “to suggest, hint, or communicate indirectly”; infer means to “deduce or conclude from.” (Writers and speakers imply. Readers and listeners infer.)

a. I thought she was implying that I would receive a raise; apparently I inferred incorrectly.

10. Lay means “to put or place something.” It must be followed by a direct object. (lay, laid, laid)

a. Please don’t lay that report there.

b. Jerri’s assistant laid down the new carpeting yesterday

Lie means “to rest or recline.” It does not take a direct object. (lie, lay, lain)

c. Tim likes to lie down for a nap after lunch.

d. He lay down Monday at 12:30, but often he has lain down by 12:15.

11. To precede means “to go or come before,” while proceed means “to move on or go ahead.”

a. A note that preceded today’s meeting told us to proceed with part two.

12. “Than” indicates a comparison and “then” refers to time.

a. Kevin didn’t know any more about this than I did.

b. First write your resume. Then look for a job.

b. The tired staff was averse to the idea of working till midnight.