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5 Common Word Usage Mistakes that Make You Sound Stupid (or Worse, Pompous)

May 25, 2010Ann HandleyOpen

In an age of texting and Twitter, does grammar matter? I’m not going to go all schoolmarm on you and insist that Yes!! You in the third row! You must always punctuate pristinely and spell impeccably!! (Insert knuckle rap with a stiff ruler here!)

The truth is, no. It dznt always matter, unless u r anal. (Which I am, of course. But that’s a choice each of us is free to make, at least in regard to grammar.)

But good grammar and usage do indeed matter generally, because as a business leader, colleague and boss, it’s important for you to communicate clearly, and to speak well. As business writer and management consultant Peter Drucker has said, “As soon as you take one step up the career ladder, your effectiveness depends on your ability to communicate your thoughts in writing and in speaking.”

Good communication matters in marketing, especially, because the words you use (and how you use them) create an image of who you are. Websites, brochures, blog posts, sales collateral, Slideshare presentations, Facebook pages and Twitter streams full of jargon, pabulum, and poor grammar tell your customers that you don’t really care.

If you care about your business, you should also care how you describe it. If you care about making a great impression, you should take care in how you speak and write.

A lot of people have grammar pet peeves that drive them nuts (you probably do, too). What follows are mine, because as a business writer and editor, I see and hear them far too frequently:

– Confusing who and that. The rule: use who when you are referring to a person, that when you are referring to a thing. Duh, right? You’d think. But the other day, on NPR, I heard the interviewer say, “She is someone that I’ve known for years….” Ugh. In other words, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that in place of who… I wouldn’t drive a 5-year-old station wagon.

– Irregardless. Rule: Irregardless is not a word.  In other words, it communicates nothing other than the fact that you are a trying to sound all edu-ma-cated and fancy-like, when you are anything but.

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