5 common grammar mistakes people make at work

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Have you made one of these language blunders today?
Have you made one of these language blunders today?

In striving to sound business-like, we can make our wording labored—and even incorrect.

Most of us strive for correctness when we speak or write. Yet sometimes, perhaps because of a rule we vaguely remember or because we're trying too hard to sound impressive or exact, we choose a less natural sounding expression for a more formal sounding one—and end up being incorrect anyway. Here are some examples:

1.   For more information, please see Rick or I.

Poor me. It often gets left out of sentences that contain more than one object. But the next time you are wondering whether to use myself or I as the object of your sentence, try a little experimenting. Omit the first object (in this case Rick) from the sentence. Which would be correct—please see me or please see I? No contest, right? The correct word—whether with Rick or without him—is me.

2.   Dennis and myself have been selected to represent the agency at the annual awards show.

Which sounds proper? I imagine the writer of this sentence asking—myself or I? In this sentence, I is correct grammatically—and more natural sounding. Use pronouns such as myself, yourself and herself for emphasis (I completed the fact-checking myself) and to refer to the subject (The entire monograph wrote itself).

3.   “The number one test ordered from the emergency room is Troponin I,” Hartsell enthused.

To avoid sounding repetitious, writers often seek replacements for the word said. Yet said, like blue jeans and a flannel shirt, is plain and serviceable—and never calls attention to itself. Substitutes for said often sound forced.

4.   Freddie was offered an apple and a banana and he chose the slender yellow fruit.

I couldn't have made this sentence up. It came from Patricia O'Connor's Woe Is I and illustrates the lengths some writers will go to avoid seeming redundant. If you can find a smooth replacement for a word, use it. Otherwise, there is no harm in repeating the word. In this case, just write “banana” twice.

5.   We have developed these tactics to complement and reinforce your message to target prescribers.

Here the writer sounds uncertain, as though unconvinced that reinforce can stand alone—without support from complement. One verb is usually preferable to two. Go with the one that has more accuracy and force.

Awkwardness in writing and speaking is sometimes caused by people's uncertainty or by their effort to sound correct. Learn to trust your ear. If your words sound stilted to you—they probably sound that way to your listener, too.

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