Article first published February 2017, updated June 2019
English isn’t the easiest language. Not only is it not phonetic, but it’s also full of homophones, or words with the same pronunciation and different meanings like “to,” “two,” and “too.”
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 experienced it (or done it to someone else).
To avoid being called out on a grammar mistake, here’s a list of the most common copywriting errors.
Confusing homophones like “you’re” and “your”
Let’s talk about one of the most common 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 someday.
- 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.”
- “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.”
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’s 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.”
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 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 pants are too loose.”
Affect vs. Effect
- “Affect” is used when describing something that influences or impacts something or someone. For example, “Those late nights are going to affect his performance.”
- “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’s the best 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 all those 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.”
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 (e.g. this, this, and that)
- independent clauses that are joined by a conjunction (e.g. I’m excited, and I know you are, too.)
- an introductory word or phrase (e.g. Listen, I mean it.)
Use a semicolon to:
- connect two independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction (e.g. I’m excited; I know you are, too.)
- to separate items in a list when those items contain commas themselves (e.g. New York City, NY; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, TN)
You can see an example of semicolon use in this Global Fund for Women example from our site:
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, but your copy could run the risk of being a little dull. 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.
Other types of copywriting mistakes you should avoid
Grammar is only one side of writing: In fact, there are copywriting mistakes that are more technical. Let’s look at some mistakes that could weaken your sales copy and have a negative impact on revenue.
As a copywriter, it’s easy to fall in the trap of using industry-related jargon. Just to be clear, jargon means special words, terms, and abbreviations that are associated with a particular area of activity. For example, words like:
- Stat – statistic, status, or fast
- Sweat equity – working for a stake in a business
- WFH – working from home
Jargon may simplify Slack conversations, but copy should be accessible to all audiences. And sure, some terms may sound more professional, but customers may not understand your industry-specific terms.
So, avoid jargon when you can.
Writing copy that’s too generic
The main purpose of copywriting, especially advertising copywriting, is to use your words to inspire your readers to take action. Creating generic content won’t help you achieve your goals. Instead, be ultra-specific about why you’re writing and the action you want your readers to take.
Check out the examples below and see the difference that specificity makes:
General: Product XYZ will boost your performance and make you more productive.
The fix: Product XYZ will boost your performance by making lead scoring and email outreach much easier. The result? More efficiency and more revenue.
Next time you write copy, be it sales copy, advertising copy, or email copy, make sure it’s as specific as possible.
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.
And remember, apart from spelling and grammar mistakes, you need to make sure your copy flows well and is easy-to-understand.
By avoiding these spelling and grammar mistakes, together with the other technical copywriting mistakes, your writing will become cleaner and more persuasive.
If you’re an email marketer who needs to hone your email copy skills, check out our guide on writing high-performing emails.