Marketing column: Seven grammar and usage faux pas to avoid

When used correctly, the English language is a powerful tool to win people over.

Whether you’re wordsmithing a press release, crafting a compelling email or pitching services to a potential client, grammar and word usage can either lend credibility to or detract credibility from your organization. Consider the following list a guide to running a quality-control check on your professional communications:

Passive voice: A game was played. A speech was delivered. Passive voice tells your reader what happened but not who the actor was who committed the action. Who played the game? Who delivered the speech? Convert your writing to active voice by starting sentences with the subject: The athlete played the game. The president delivered the speech. Writing in active voice forces you to talk about your subject and gives readers a sense of clarity.

Person or group distinction: When you are talking about a singular person, refer to that person as “who.” For example, “The employee who handles payroll is sick today.” If you are taking about a group of people, however, call that group a “that.” For example: “The band that played a show last night was talented.” The same applies to companies, organizations, boards, panels, families, couples — you get the picture.

Citizens vs. residents: You are a citizen of a country but a resident of a city or state. If you are talking about people who live in a country, refer to those people as “citizens.” If you are talking about people who live in an area on the state or local level, refer to those people as “residents.”

Farther vs. further: Farther refers to physical distance. Further refers to abstract distance. Examples: “Drive farther away from the city.” “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Could care less: There seems to be widespread confusion about how to use this phrase, and people tend to simply use it both ways to express disinterest in a situation. “I could care less about the new corporate mandates.” “I couldn’t care less about the networking event.” So which way is it? Let’s think about it. If you could care less about something, that means you still have a little interest in it. If you couldn’t care less, you’re totally removed from the situation. So, “couldn’t care less” is the sentiment you want to express.

Should of: It’s never OK to say “should of,” as in “I should of attended the fundraiser.” The correct form is “should have.” “I should have attended the fundraiser.”

Comma mania: Commas in the middle of longer sentences can improve reading flow, but it’s easy to punctuate incorrectly. The rule of thumb is: Place a comma between two complete sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so). Here’s an example: “The CEO left early, and he went to lunch.” If there is no subject in the second part of the sentence, (in this case, no “he”), the sentence does not take a comma. Like this: “The CEO left early and went to lunch.”

By paying attention to simple fixes such as these, you can significantly up the quality of your content and increase the perceived credibility of your organization.

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