On becoming error-free…

On becoming uncommonly error-free in your speaking and writing…

By Jack Thomas

Whether you’re speaking or writing, the level of your skill with language is either an asset or a detriment to your overall professional image. All but a rare few of us make an error from time to time. If, however, you use poor grammar while trying to lead, teach, persuade, or otherwise influence others, those who recognize your errors will be suspicious of everything that you have to say.

Anyone who writes or speaks for a living should spend as much time as required to learn to use language properly. Lapsing into an informal mode once in a while for effect is acceptable, but when you demonstrate, for example, that you don’t know the difference between “effect” and “affect,” your mistake negatively affects your credibility with educated listeners or readers.

I’m not a language purist. When I’m talking with country relatives, I tend to let my hair down a little. As a professional editor, however, I am always amazed when I’m watching a high-budget movie and the actor who is portraying a college professor, for example, says, “I bought this for you and I.” In this usage, of course, the personal pronoun “I” should be “me.” Most people speaking informally would say “for me and you.” That is more nearly correct than the former. The correct form, of course, is, “I bought this for you and me.” This is easy to see if you take out the “you,” so it reads, “I bought this for me.” Almost nobody would say, “I bought this for I.”

I ran across a gentleman once who had written a Top 10 song back in the 60s with a key line in the chorus that ended in “for you and I.” In my youthful ignorance, I pointed out his grammatical error and, predictably, he was not very appreciative of my generosity. “How many hits have you wrote?” he asked, thus ending the discussion.

As a professional writer/editor, I’m usually very alert to errors in grammar and spelling. Before I changed my Internet connection, outstanding examples were sent to me daily in the form of spam email from not-so-bright people who claimed they wanted to solve my financial problems. Under the subject column, one spammer asked, “Are your payments to high?” Another declared, “You’re loan has been approved!”

To find more tips on how to avoid the mistakes in English that plague most of the American population, I would suggest that you use Google as a search engine and then type in “common mistakes in English.” “Common errors in English” gets similar results. When doing this, one of the sites that will pop up, surprisingly enough, is Common Errors in English by Paul Brians. This site provides an excellent discussion on the subject and also lists the various words that often are confused. You might also want to consider buying the book that Professor Brians has written on the subject.

Once you reach adulthood, it’s difficult to change old habits, but it’s well worth the effort to learn the basics of good grammar. As young people increasingly abandon books and magazines for television and computer videos, language skills continue to decline. Writers who can put together an error-free paragraph are in great demand. No matter what your career choice might be, good language skills will give you a competitive edge.

If you’re already an outstanding achiever in your field, but lack confidence in your language skills, you might want to consider getting professional help with your writing and speaking projects. That’s pretty easy to do. Just click here.


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