My copywriter blog

16 grammar errors you want to avoid

by | Copy editing, Copywriting, Grammar, Proofreading

By the time you reach the end of this page, you’ll know exactly how to avoid grammar errors that lose you trust and business.

First impressions count.

So if your USP is attention to detail and quality of service, then grammar errors and typos kill your credibility.

You see, grammar errors detract from the impact of your messages. To make matters worse, they make you look sloppy and signal you don’t care.

But it’s easy to be tripped up by grammatical errors.

For instance, I have a blind spot where writing the word ‘covenant’ is concerned. When writing blogs for a finance company, I always spell it ‘convenant’.

Fortunately, the spell check picks this error up every time. But for other words I know I cannot rely on spell check.

You see, in everyday writing, you encounter many words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

Here is a list of 16 grammatical errors I commonly encounter when I’m asked to edit marketing copy.


1. Advise/advice


To get your head around this rule, remember ‘ice‘ is a noun (a people, places or thing word) and ‘is’ is a verb (a doing word). This simple mnemonic will help you:

‘I advise you not to give advice.


2. Practise/practice


Similarly, the words ‘practice’ and ‘practise’ often confound.

‘Practice’ is a noun (a people, places or thing word).

“It is my practice to always read emails before sending them.”

Whereas the word ‘practise’ is a verb (a doing word).

“Shall we practise writing subject lines before sending the email?”


3. Compliment/Complement


Sometimes words that sound the same have two completely different meanings:

To compliment means to give praise.

“I’d like to compliment you on your delivery of a stunning piece of work.”

In contrast, to complement signifies to go well with or enhance something.

“I offer a range of accessories to complement your outfit.”


4. Affect/Effect


Easy to mix up.

The word ‘affect’ is a verb.

“How will the upgrade affect the performance of my phone?”

The word ‘effect’ is a noun.

“Switching to low power mode has a significant effect on your phone’s battery life.”


5. Imply/Infer


When you imply something, you suggest something indirectly:

“Are you implying that I cheated in my exam?”

When you infer something, you deduce from information received:

“Then I think we must infer from the report that we need to double our marketing budget.”


6. Less/fewer


Let’s clarify the confusion over these words, once and for all.

Think singular when you use the word ‘less’. Or ‘not as much’.

“It takes me less than an hour to commute to my new office.”

On the contrary, think plural when you use the word ‘fewer’. Or ‘not as many’.

Fewer people read newspapers these days.”


7. Principal/Principle


Not that I’m trying to baffle you:

‘Principal’ is either a noun:

“A new principal will lead the school this year.”

Or an adjective:

“Eggs are the principal ingredient in an omelette.”

Whereas, ‘principle’ is a rule or a governing behaviour:

“The management team agreed to the plan in principle.”


8. Alot/A lot


And then there are the words we make up. There is no such word as ‘alot’.

But people make this mistake ‘a lot‘ of times!


9. Irregardless


Similarly ‘irregardless’ is not a word. The correct word is ‘regardless.’


10. Whose/Who’s


Here, the problem arises from confusion about the contraction.

‘Whose’ means belonging to whom.

Whose packed lunch is this?”

Whereas ‘who’s’ is a contraction of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’.

Who’s hungry?”


11. Should of, could of, would of


By the same token, when we contract:

‘Should have’, ‘could have’ and would have’

It sounds like we’re saying:

Should’ve, could’ve and would’ve.


12. Your/you’re


In a like manner, the word ‘your’ is possessive:

“Hang up your wet towel!”

On the other hand, ‘you’re’ is a contraction of ‘you are’.

You’re always leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor!”


13. Peace of mind/piece of mind


Beware of similar sounding idioms.

“When he broke the fridge door, she gave him a piece of her mind!”

Whereas “knowing the household insurance would cover the damage gave her peace of mind.”


14. First come, first serve


It’s actually, first come, first served.

The phrase means ‘the first to come will be the first to be served’.


15. Dangling modifiers


“Having finished the essay, the Xbox was fired up.”

But hang on a minute. Can an Xbox write an essay? The phrase ‘having finished the essay’ is a dangling modifier. It confuses readers and makes copy challenging to read.

To correct the dangling modifier, add a subject:

“Having finished his essay, Luca fired up the Xbox.”


16. Referring to a company as ‘they’


I see this mistake all the time. Companies are entities. End of! (Yes, I’ve used a preposition at the end of a sentence. That’s for another blog.)

Incorrect: “To reflect their growing service range, Hawes and Co rebranded.”

Correct: “To reflect its growing service range, Hawes and Co rebranded.”

Or: “To reflect the company’s growing service range, Hawes and Co rebranded.”


Top tips for avoiding grammar errors


If in doubt, don’t chance it. Rewrite your sentence to avoid troublesome words and phrases.

And always, always proofread your copy. Better still, get someone to proofread it for you.

Trust me you’ll be glad you did.


And finally


If you’d like someone to polish your copy for you, drop me a line about copy-editing services, and we’ll set up a time to chat.

Claire Hawes, Copywriter and owner of The Content Boutique

About Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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