Guest post by Sydnee Bagovich
Like it or not, fair or unfair, we are judged every day by how we communicate through our writing and speaking. And, when our communication is riddled with bad punctuation, run-on sentences, or misused words — or when it is written in casual tone when it most definitely should be professional — the receiver of that message forms an opinion of us.
If that receiver is a client, the perception may be that, if we don’t care about our grammar, we don’t care about his account; or maybe we’re sloppy; or maybe we’re just not very bright. I have heard accounts from people who have walked away from a potential service provider because of bad language skills. Hiring managers tell me that when cover letters include bad grammar, they go right into the trash — resume and all. Personally, I navigate away from websites because of misused words, typos or poor sentence structure. You mean you didn’t at least have someone review that before you posted it?! If you don’t care about your message, how can you care about your service, and for that matter, why should I?
The way that we form our message sometimes speaks much more loudly than the message itself. I like to help people understand the importance of the message behind the message. You might be a great accountant, website developer, contractor, engineer, or attorney; but, if your communication is anything less than professional and grammatically sound, you could be unfairly judged as sloppy, careless, or unintelligent. Be aware of the message behind your message, and what you might be presenting – unwittingly – about yourself.
If I had to choose just one example of bad grammar that I see on a regular basis and teach people how to turn it around, it would be the misunderstood and so-often-misused apostrophe. Unlocking the mystery of apostrophes can help you to understand many other grammar blunders and boost your confidence in your writing communications. Here are the rules:
- Apostrophes serve as the missing letters in contractions. I am = I’m. You are = you’re. It’s = it is or it has. I’ll = I will.
- Apostrophes demonstrate possession. To make singular words that end in –s possessive, simply add ’s. My cousin Chris’s family, the boss’s briefcase.
Simple plurals present confusion with that –s at the end of the word. They tempt us to include an apostrophe unnecessarily. If you have more than one family, it is families; more than one friend would be friends; and if you were referring to everyone in the Smith family, it would be the Smiths. These examples do not require an apostrophe, so don’t use one!
Plural possessives are a bit more complex. First, make the word plural, and then add your apostrophe/possession. The houses of all of your friends would be your friends’ houses. And, if you had several people with the last name of Smith, and you were invited to parties with all of them, you would be invited to the Smiths’ parties.
Here’s another tricky one: When would you use an apostrophe with it’s? Well, you know that as a contraction it can mean it is (It’s raining today) or it has (It’s been raining all week). But, did you also know it can show possession? (The company increased its profits.)
The rule is easy to remember: it’s = it is or it has. That is the ONLY time that an apostrophe should be used with this word. When it shows possession, its is the correct form. So, the check is on its way. It’s in the mail.
As I mentioned, apostrophes tend to cause a lot of confusion in writing. Other common blunders include:
- You’re vs. Your. Your is the possessive form of you. You’re = you are, period. So, if you can replace you are for what you’re saying, then you’re is the right choice; otherwise, it’s probably a possessive form of you, and your would be appropriate. Now you’re on your way!
- They’re vs. Their vs. There. By that same logic, they’re = they are, and their = possessive form of they (they exercised their rights).
Its, your, and their are all possessive pronouns. Since the possession is already included in the word, no apostrophes are needed. Other possessive pronouns include: my, him, her, our. None of these words require an apostrophe.
The English language presents an abundance of rules, but it also has many exceptions to those rules. Keeping all of it straight is not an easy task. That is why I call myself The Grammar Nerd. Don’t let bad grammar get in the way of your nerdery!
Sydnee Bagovich has a passion for the importance of good grammar in effective communication. She conducts professional workshops as The Grammar Nerd on common grammatical errors that can result in a lack of confidence in communication, poor performance reviews and negative perspectives in professional and personal situations. She presents what can be dry and dull material in a fun, conversational way, engaging her audiences in lively, interactive discussions where they feel safe to ask questions.
Sydnee earned a bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University and an MBA from The Katz Graduate School of Business at The University of Pittsburgh. She maintains an extensive professional social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and her website, www.thegrammarnerd.com.