Dear Ms. Etiquette,
I work in an office and find myself writing various letters to several businesses. I feel like I need to take a refresher course in English grammar because I am always dependent on spell check and the computer dictionary. Is there any tips or advice you can give me on this?
– No English Major
Any grammatical error can have a jarring effect even in the most casual note or quick e-mail. You are certainly doing right by using spell-check and hitting the dictionary when in doubt of the exact meaning of a word.
Below are some quick tips taken from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Etiquette: by Mary Mitchell with John Corr.
1. Leaving the apostrophe out of it’s when it’s a contraction for “it is.”
2. Using less instead of fewer. The word less refers to quantities (such as “less water”), and fewer refers to things you can count (such as “fewer marbles”). (Of course, if you mention this error at checkout counters with the sign “10 items or less” the clerk is apt to look at you as if you were speaking Urdo.)
3. Using the phrase “between you and I.” This phrase becomes “you and me” when it follows a preposition, such as between, to, and for.
4. Using irregardless instead of regardless.
5. Using “I, myself” or “you, yourself.” (Only use myself for emphasis.)
6. Misusing imply and infer. The speaker implies; the listener infers.
7. Misusing capital and capitol. The Capitol is the building; capital is everything else.
8. Perhaps the most common grammatical error is failing to have the number of the noun agree with the verb. Take a look at these examples:
Everyone is (not are) eligible.
The group of reporters is (not are) waiting.
Either Tom and Joan is qualified.
Both Tom and Joan are qualified.
9. Perhaps the most common punctuation error is failing to put a comma after the end of the first part of a compound sentence, which is two complete sentences hooked together with a conjunction such as and or but.
For example: “You may stay, but you must not stay later than midnight.”
Irma Wolcott is the owner of Fun With Etiquette. Call her at 956-492-4762 for more information. Website: www.funwithetiquette.com e-Mail her at: email@example.com