After proofreading thousands of reports, I prepared this list of 5 grammatical errors.

Do you want to present yourself a well-qualified communicator, one who understands how your clients, both internal and external, scrutinize every word you write?

Here is what NOT to do.

Don’t confuse possessive and plural

This grammatical error separates the skilled and less skilled writer. Not sure when to use an apostrophe? Plurals mean you are referring to more than one. Possessive means you are describing ownership. I know many people who can’t figure out the difference between these two.

Wrong: “She was responsible for preparing the marketing plans’ for the company.”

Right: “She was responsible for preparing the marketing plans for the company.”

Don’t add an apostrophe to a plural word unless you are using the possessive form.

Don’t mix up hyphens and dashes

This is another sign of an inexperienced writer. What’s the difference between a hyphen and a dash?

A hyphen is a useful symbol to break up words separated by the end of a line, or compound words like self-esteem, or grouped numbers. You’d use a hyphen in your birthdate: 7-13-78.

But don’t use a hyphen to indicate a date range, like 1993-2003. The N dash does that.

You’d use an N dash for a range of numbers or an open-ended range, like 1990- to indicate the birthdate of an author who is still live. (It takes a lot to kill us.)

The “n dash”is the width of the letter n.

The M dash (the width of the letter M) works better than commas to set apart a concept. It breaks up a sentence. Keep these separate in your mind by thinking of the fact that an “n” is less wide than an “m”.

Hyphens punctuate words.
They link smaller words to make compound words: 66-year-old.
They link an adjective before a noun: month-long orientation.

Dashes punctuate sentences.
An M Dash makes a detour around the main idea of a sentence to add an aside. Use two dashes in a sentence if the interruption comes in the middle of the sentence.

“The new hire–who spoke limited English–could not read the employee manual.”

A dash is twice as long as a hyphen. Note there is no space before and after either a hyphen or a dash.

It is hard to illustrate these in a blog post. This cite gives great examples.

Don’t use insure, assure and ensure interchangeably

These three guys cause many grammatical errors. Although these words sound alike, they have different meanings.

Insure means to protect against loss.
Assure means to pledge or give confidence to people. (Reassure has the same meaning.)
Ensure means to guarantee or make certain.

  • You contact an insurance carrier when you want to insure your car.
  • You talk to the attorney when you want to assure him the case is defensible.
  • You speak to the assistant when you want to ensure you receive all of the records.

Don’t confuse principle and principal

Principals are people. You dreaded being sent to the principal when you were in school. The principal was not your pal. A principal is a person in control.

Principal also means main or primary. “Our principal need is to be sure we have named all of the possible defendants.”

Principle is a rule or guidebook. “It is against my principles to not refund the unused portion of a retainer.”

This is an example of using both words in the same sentence: “The principal of the company asserted that the firm would not violate its principles.”

The Last Grammatical Error: Don’t use colons incorrectly

Colons tell your reader to come to a stop. Use them to introduce a list, such as a list of initiatives.

Mr. Guthrie directed the sales department to focus on these actions:

  • Close more sales
  • Identify the most commonly heard objections
  • Reduce the sales cycle

Don’t put a colon after a verb or the object of a preposition.

Incorrect: Please email me: the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.
Correct: Please email me the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.

The part before the colon must be able to stand alone as a complete sentence.

Also correct: Please email me the information I need to complete my database: the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.

Pat Iyer grew up in a house with a dictionary that stayed on the dining room table so that anyone making grammatical errors could be and would be challenged. The Language Patrol never took a day off. Reach Pat to discuss how she can make your writing shine – at