Where it all went wrong

Basic grammatical errors

Punctuation isn’t the only aspect of grammar being mangled. Business writing often contains a multitude of common errors of basic English grammar. Take the use of nouns as verbs, a recent but growing addition to the list of crimes against grammar. The use of some new verbs, such as ‘parenting’, may now be accepted as correct grammar, but many other ‘verbalised’ words found in letters, marketing material and the press have not. Film reviewers can’t, for example, ‘critique’ the latest releases; someone cannot ‘intuit’ a feeling; a company cannot ‘showcase’ its products.

Writing ‘affect’ when the author means ‘effect’, ‘compliment’ instead of ‘complement’, ‘principle’ rather than ‘principal’ and – one of the most offensive of these common errors – ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’ add to the crimes against English grammar and punctuation.

No one can turn back the education clocks so that the lost generations find their way through the maze of grammar and punctuation, but employers and colleges can make sure that their staff and students don’t lose out – by signing up for a Mark My Words grammar and punctuation course today.

The problem with current literary and grammatical competence goes back several decades, and arose from an emerging theory, subsequently adopted by the educational establishment throughout Britain and beyond, that preoccupation with the written and spoken word was somehow misguided, and distracted students of all ages from the wider learning process. It backfired, leaving generations of young people lacking in the the basics of correct English that their parents enjoyed as a matter of course.

For businesses, the poor standards in grammar and punctuation can have a dire effect. If a letter, email, contract or other document is not clear, it can be misinterpreted in a way that causes problems in future – and could even lead to a court case. If potential customers can’t understand a letter because of its poor grammar and punctuation – and don’t forget, an email is only an electronic letter – they may look for a supplier whose grammar and punctuation are good enough to ensure clear communication. At best, if the grammar in a document is not correct and its wrong use of punctuation makes the reader cringe, it presents an unprofessional image of the company.

Take the apostrophe, for example. Perhaps the most misunderstood of all punctuation marks, the apostrophe is frequently inserted into plurals – from CD’s and 1980’s to apple’s, orange’s and even message’s. While the greengrocer may get away with it (but arguably shouldn't), a business writer should know better.

A diarrhoea of commas has infected many a writer’s use of punctuation. They put them before verbs, after verbs, in the middle of clauses and anywhere in a sentence the writer thinks is too long to go without punctuation. Sometimes they use two where one would do and none when they should use one.

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