Eight Grammar Mistakes to Ditch – Ryane Staples (UConn ’20, District One Communications Chair)

Have you ever been reading something and then you come upon a really ugly grammatical mistake and you just stop reading? It’s like nails on a chalkboard. What if the thing you’re reading is an e-mail from a respected colleague or mentor – does that influence your opinion of them? If you’re honest with yourself, you might say yes.

We’re all guilty of not double-checking our text messages. Sometimes your thumb gets moving so quickly that you’re pressing ‘send’ before your eyes even have time to re-scan. Plus, it’s just a text, right? It’s probably not that important. You probably don’t often text your professional contacts, so it probably makes no difference.

But, what about e-mails? Where do they fit into the communication importance hierarchy? I guess it depends on whom you’re e-mailing and what audience you think that e-mail has. If you’re e-mailing your Mom or brother, it’s probably not critical to make sure you’re using ‘whom’ appropriately, or whether you’ve put the apostrophe in the right place. Most e-mails, however, deserve a re-read (and probably even a second re-read) before you send them. Most deserve the additional time and labor of editing so that you don’t ruin an otherwise perfectly good piece of communication, and in the process, tarnish your good reputation.

What am I talking about? Well, we all make mistakes when we’re writing e-mails. These days, autocorrect and spellcheck have our backs… until they don’t. What happens when you write a word that is a real word but is simply not correct in context? Spellcheck probably won’t alert you. What happens when you mix up your tenses mid-sentence? Autocorrect probably missed it too. I’m not talking about high-level grammatical mistakes that you’d need an English major to uncover, or even about stylistic preferences – I’m referring to simple, albeit painful mistakes. Here are some sneaky and easy mistakes that are commonly made that you can benefit from avoiding, particularly when you’re sending an e-mail to someone important (i.e., professor, potential future business partner, clinic coordinator, etc.).

  • Perspective/prospective
    • Perspective is one’s take on something – their point of view: “John brings a valuable perspective to this discussion because of his experience working with older patients.”
    • Prospective is referencing something that may happen in the future: “I know that you don’t need any dental work right now, but everybody is a prospective new patient.”
  • Your/you’re
    • This one almost everybody knows the difference between, but I bring this up because it’s easy to fire off an e-mail on our phones these days and this is one that autocorrect just loves to ambush you with. If you mix these up, the person reading your e-mail might think, “Oh, this person’s autocorrect must have mixed them up,” or they could think, “Wow, this person doesn’t actually know the difference between your/you’re.” Don’t put yourself in the position to risk that judgement – double and triple check!
  • Its/it’s
    • Similarly, its/it’s is easy to have autocorrected on you.
    • Its indicates possession: “That team is going to get its butt kicked in the Super Bowl.”
    • It’s is the contraction for it is: “I should be getting home, it’s getting late.”
  • Affect/effect
    • It is very easy to mix these two up, and I see it all the time.
    • Affect is the verb form of the noun, effect: “Venkata wants to have a bigger effect on his patients’ health this year, so I told him that he has to come to work every day ready to affect his patients.”
  • Then/than
    • Use than when making comparisons, otherwise, use then – it’s actually that simple. However, I admit, it can be tough. My recommendation? Read your sentence and unless you’re making a comparison, just don’t use than.
  • Assure/ensure/insure
    • This is one that is super common, mostly because… why do we need three words that basically mean the same thing? Unfortunately, although these words are all very similar, they are not the same and must be used correctly.
    • Assure means to promise something, or to say it with confidence: “Alejandra assured me that we would go to backup lab this evening.”
    • Ensure means to make certain: “I need you to ensure that your e-mail is proofread.”
    • Insure means to actually provide protection against some form of risk, like what insurance companies do: “MedPro is going to insure me next year.”
  • Compliment/complement
    • You compliment someone on a job well done, you don’t complement them on it. On the other hand, if you’re Donald Trump, you add ketchup to your steak to complement the flavor (rolls eyes)
    • You could, of course, use complement to refer to the immune reaction as well J
  • Using i.e. and e.g.
    • Using i.e. is for when you want to write the short-hand of “in other words” while e.g. is used in place of “for example.”
      • I’m going to go relax on my bed for a few minutes (i.e., I need a nap).
      • Jamar hates playing sports (e.g., football and basketball).

If you have made/are making these mistakes in your e-mails, they are simple errors to fix. If you know you frequently mix one or more of these up, please feel free to print up this short list and tape them up somewhere where you’ll remember to look before clicking send. Next time you’re in a rush and trying to get an e-mail out quickly, just remember who’s on the other end of it and consider whether their impression of you will change if you make one of these simple mistakes. Your words matter, and probably more than you think! Take the time, and preserve your erudite reputation.

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