English is not the easiest language. First of all, it is not a phonetic language, which is what makes watching 12-year-olds tackle words like “asceticism” and “staphylococci” at the Scripps Spelling Bee so thrilling. It’s also full of homophones, or words that have the same pronunciation, but different meanings like “to,” “two,” and “too.” Not to mention there are several exceptions to the rules in English such as “I before E except after C.” And, let’s not even talk about how to make a surname that ends with “s” possessive.
Simply put: English can be challenging even for the biggest grammar nerd, and it’s easy for even the most talented writer to mess up sometimes. Unfortunately, as a copywriter, you’re not afforded the luxury of grammar goofs. You have the responsibility to make sure your copy is error-free, and if you don’t, you can count on someone calling you out on it. We’ve all seen it, done it, or had it done to us.
To avoid being called out for an erroneous mistake, here’s a list of the most common copywriting errors.
1. Confusing homophones like “you’re” and “your”
Let’s talk about one of the most common grammar mistakes out there: the notorious muddling of “you’re” and “your.” Here’s how to remember the difference.
“Your” is possessive. For example:
- Your hair is golden.
- Your cat is furry.
“You’re” is a contraction of “you are.” For example:
- You’re going to win a Grammy some day.
- You’re the best.
When in doubt, ask yourself whether or not the word “are” belongs in your sentence. If it does, write “you’re.” If not, stick with “your.”
English would be a breeze if you only had to worry about getting “your” and “you’re” right, but there are several other homophones that can be problematic. Here’s a rundown of other common errors to help you get it right.
They’re, There, and Their
- “They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.” For example, “They’re heading to the gym today.”“There” indicates location. For example, “There is the piece of paper you were looking for earlier today.”
- “There” indicates location. For example, “There is the piece of paper you were looking for earlier today.”
- “Their” is possessive. For example, “Their dad is a fun guy.”
It’s vs. Its
- “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” For example, “It’s raining outside today.”
- “Its” is possessive. For example, “The cat is chasing its tail.”
Two, To, and Too
- “Two” is the correct spelling for the number 2. For example, “Two people are late today.”
- “To” is either the infinitive form of a verb or the introduction to a prepositional phrase. For example, “Do you want to go to the movie theater?”
- “Too” is an adverb that means either also or indicates excess. For example, “He has too much product in his hair.”
2. Is it “who” or “whom?”
It doesn’t seem like adding an “m” to the end of a word like who would be such a big deal, especially when many of us forget about it in daily speech, but it does. Here is the difference.
- “Who” is used when you are referring to the subject of a sentence. For example, “Who are you?”
- “Whom” is used when you are referring to the object of a sentence. For example, “To whom was the letter addressed?”This is easier to remember if you substitute gender pronouns we use more commonly like “he” and “him.” If you would say “he,” then use “who.” If you would say “him,” then use “whom.”
Again, there is more than one instance where you can easily confuse pronouns. For example, sometimes it’s difficult to know when to use me, myself, or I.
Me, Myself, and I
- “Me” is the pronoun used when someone performs an action to you, or for you. For example, “He gave the present to me.”
- “Myself” is used when you perform the action on yourself. For example, “I earned the money for camp myself.”
- “I” is only used when you are referring to yourself as the subject of the sentence. For example, “I sent out the email yesterday.”
3. Words that are too close for comfort
In English, there are also several words that are close in spelling, but different in meaning, and people mix them up all of the time. Here are the most common problems.
Then vs. Than
- “Then” is an adverb and a transition word used to situate actions in time. For example, “I went to the store, and then I went home.”
- “Than” is a conjunction used to make comparisons. For example, “I am smarter than you.”
Complement vs. Compliment
- “Complement” refers to something that goes well with something else. For example, “Your eye shadow complements your beautiful eye color.”
- A “compliment” is something you say to offer praise or adoration. For example, “You are so beautiful.”
Lose vs. Loose
- “Lose” means you lost something and you can’t find it. For example, “Did you lose her number?”
- “Loose” means something isn’t tight enough. For example, “These jeans pants are too loose.”
Affect vs. Effect
- “Affect” is used when describing something that influences or impacts something or someone. For example, “His emotional outburst is going to negatively affect her feelings.”
- “Effect,” on the other hand, is used when describing a result. For example, “Her poor grammar skills had an effect on her final grade.”
Farther vs. Further
- “Farther” refers to a physical distance. For example, “How much farther is it to the gas station?”
- “Further” is used to indicate a greater degree. For example, “If you explain further, I’ll understand.”
Principal vs. Principle
- The noun “principal” means the highest person in rank, while the adjective means the most important of a group. For example, “The principal of the school gave me detention.”
- “Principle” means a fundamental truth or a standard. “The first principle in basic Christianity is faith.”
Assure, Insure, and Ensure
- “Assure” means to say something with confidence and promise. For example, “I assure you she is the best point guard on the team.”
- “Insure” means to protect against some kind of risk. For example, “I insured my house because I like to light candles.”
- “Ensure” means to make something certain. For example, “Please ensure you don’t burn down the house when you light any candles.”
Fewer vs. Less
- “Fewer” is used when you refer to either people or things in the plural. For example, “Fewer astronauts are going into space.”
- “Less” is used when you can’t count the number or if it doesn’t have a plural. For example, “I now spend less time watching television.”
Peak vs. Peek vs. Pique
- “Peak” means the top of something, like a mountain or a point. As in, “Our peak shopping season was in December. “
- “Peek” is to take a quick look. For example, “Don’t peek yet, it’s a surprise!”
- “Pique” can mean annoy or excite. An example, “The description of the book has piqued my interest in reading it at last.”
The most commonly confused phrase is “sneak peek”. Remember, you’re sneaking a look at something not sneaking a mountain.
4. Frequent punctuation errors
Not only is it possible to use words incorrectly, it’s also possible to trip up on punctuation. Rather than pointing out every possible way to misuse punctuation, let’s review the basics of commas and semicolons.
Use commas to separate:
- elements in a series
- independent clauses that are joined by a conjunction
- an introductory word or phrase.
Use a semicolon to:
- connect two independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction
- to separate items in a list when those items contain commas themselves.
5. Bland words to omit from your copywriting
If you use any of the words outlined in this last section, you’re not making an error; you’re potentially guilty of being boring. If you’re looking to spice up your copy, try and eliminate or cut out the following words:
• In order to
Do yourself a favor and conduct a quick “control/find” in your documents, and delete any of the words listed above.
English is a complex language, which makes creating flawless content difficult. Hopefully, this guide will help you clean up your writing when it matters most.