10 More of the Most Common Grammatical Mistakes in Business Writing
We couldn’t resist. Our last blog post started a good conversation, so we’re back for more. Following are 10 more of the most common grammatical mistakes we see in business and marketing writing, along with the skinny on how to avoid them.
Important Caveat Before We Begin: We’re not perfect. We’ve made these same mistakes a million times, and readers may even catch a few grammatical mistakes in this entry. The point: using proper grammar is good, but using proper grammar and not being a self-righteous grammar snob is better.
1. Concurrent, Consecutive This mistake can cause major misunderstandings, especially in reference to financial results or project schedules. Concurrent means “simultaneous or happening at the same time as something else.” Consecutive means “successive or following one after the other.” Unless you’ve discovered a parallel universe, your company cannot achieve several concurrent quarters of growth.
Examples: The concurrent economic and industry downturns crippled the company’s revenue. The company experienced three consecutive quarters of double-digit growth.
2. Biweekly, Semiweekly We see this one all the time in B2B communications. Are your newsletters biweekly or semiweekly? How about those client meetings you set up? Making this mistake can create some serious confusion. Bi- means “two” and semi- means “half.” Therefore, biweekly meetings are every two weeks, while semiweekly meetings are twice per week.
Try this: Think about bicycles and semisweet chocolate. Bicycles have two wheels, while semisweet chocolate is only half sweet. Helps us.
Example: No example on this one. While you may know the difference between biweekly and semiweekly, your audience may not. So why risk confusing people? Make things easy: just say every two weeks or twice a week. Same with bimonthly, semimonthly, biannually, and semiannual.
3. Precede, Proceed Precede means “to come before something else in time or space,” while proceed means “to go forward in doing something.” Here is where knowing your prefixes comes in handy. Pre- means “before” (think preface or preexisting), while pro- means “forward” (think progress).
Examples: Budgetary approval must precede any new purchases. Once the budget is approved, we can proceed with purchasing new equipment.
4. Penultimate Don’t use this word. Really, don’t. While your sophisticated brain may know that penultimate means “next to last,” many people think it means “the very last thing” or “the best.” Avoid the confusion and use next to last. Besides, penultimate may give readers the impression of pretentiousness. It does for us.
5. Simple, Simplistic Like penultimate, simplistic belongs on the list of big words people use to sound impressive. Too bad people often confuse simplistic with the superlative form of simple, which is simplest. Simplistic is actually a pejorative word meaning “overly simplified or characterized by extreme and misleading simplicity.” Big difference. Never use simplistic when discussing your organization or its services, products, qualities, or employees. On second thought, never use simplistic in any business writing.
Examples: Clients appreciate the company’s simple pricing structure. The simplest brands are often the most popular.
6. Complement, Compliment Complement is a noun or verb denoting completeness or the process of supplementing something. Compliment is a noun, adjective, or verb that means “praise or the expression of courtesy.” Unless you’re selling talking robots, your products or services cannot compliment one another.
Examples: The new editor is a perfect complement to the team. We received several compliments on the copy our writer produced.
7. Alternately, Alternatively In business writing, this mistake typically occurs when the writer means “alternatively” but types alternately. Alternatively means “on the other hand” or “one or the other,” while alternately means “one after the other.” Be sure not to confuse the two, unless you enjoy inadvertently multiplying your workload. If that’s the case, you need a hobby.
Examples: The CFO alternately presented the sales figures and her projections for the coming months. We can begin the project this week. Alternatively, we can have a consultant start it next week.
8. Good, Well When describing an activity, use the adverb well. When describing a condition or passive state, use the adjective good. Seems simple, but that’s not the whole story. The wrinkle is that well can also serve as an adjective meaning “healthy.” Just remember: only use well as an adjective when discussing health. Otherwise, use good.
Examples: The editor performed extremely well on the project. The editor was a good match for the project. The editor rescheduled the project meeting because she was not feeling well.
9. Afterwards, Towards Never insert an s at the end of afterward or toward. The same goes for other words associated with directionality: backward, upward, downward, inward, and outward.
While certain style guides permit the s when the word is functioning as an adverb, it is never wrong to omit it. Also, some people strongly disagree with the use of afterwards and towards. So, why risk making a negative impression on your audience? Toss the s and move on.
Examples: We found out about the business opportunity long afterward. The small business is moving toward their goal.
10. Stationary, Stationery To be immobile or unchanging in condition is to be stationary. Materials for writing or typing are stationery. People cannot be stationery (unless they have a serious love of tattoos).
Try this: If it is an adjective, use the one with an a (stationary). If not, use stationery. Easy.
Examples: Despite our best efforts, the sales figures remained stationary this month. As part of the company rebranding, new stationery was provided to employees.
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