What, March 4 wasn’t circled on your calendar? Grammar isn’t typically on the tip of your tongue (or tip of your fingers while tapping that keyboard)?
Not to worry.
We’ll help you celebrate by passing along some tips to help you avoid making the most common grammar mistakes on your business website.
Good grammar, of course, won’t necessarily transform a website from ineffective to effective, but bad grammar can cause some potential customers to have doubts about your business.
Grammar is one part of the overall impression your website makes that leads to people trusting you enough to do business with you – or not. Sloppy grammar may brand you as unprofessional or unreliable.
Keep in mind, your number one goal when writing your web pages is not to slavishly uphold some style guide or grammar book. It’s to promote your business, engage your audience, and, ultimately, sell stuff.
So, you have permission to Think Different (no –ly required) if you feel it’s best to promote your business that way.
And here are 3 grammar rules we’d even encourage you to break.
Now, on to some grammar tips you should pay attention to. We’ll start with a list of the words people most commonly mix up.
WHICH WORD SHOULD YOU USE?
Spell check sometimes works, but it can’t save you from using wrong word (if you spell the wrong word correctly). The most common problems include:
* Their vs. There vs. They’re
They’re is a contraction for they are. So, if you try saying they are in your sentence and it makes sense, use they’re. Examples: “They’re the best offers we’ve had this year.” “They’re offered for a limited time only.”
Their is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to them. Examples: “Their reliability is their number one advantage.”
There is a little harder to define, but if you are referring to any locations or places, there it is. Also, if you are going to use are, there should be your choice. Examples: “There are no strings attached.” “There are two ways to enter the contest.”
* Your vs. You’re
Like they’re, you’re is a contraction. It’s a shortening of you are. So, if you can substitute you are, use you’re. Otherwise use your. Examples: “This is our biggest discount, so you’re in luck.” “You’re our number-one priority.”
Like their, your is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to you. Examples: “We appreciate your business.” “Our main goal is to build your trust.”
* Its vs. It’s
Like they’re and you’re, it’s is a contraction. It’s a shortening of it is. So, if you can substitute it is, use it’s. Otherwise use its. Examples: “It’s our biggest sale of the year.” “It’s no problem.”
Like their and your, its is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to something. Examples: “Good grammar has its challenges.” “Its power is its main selling point.”
* Then vs. Than
Then is used in a lot more ways than than, so it’s best to check if than makes sense first. As in the previous sentence, than is used to compare things: bigger than, less than, more reliable than, faster than, cheaper than.
Then often relates to time or sequence. Examples: “First do this, then that.” “If you’re still having trouble, then you need to restart your computer.”
* Less vs. Fewer
This one is actually pretty simple but you hear it incorrectly so often you may have problems hearing it yourself.
Because more and less are paired so frequently (as in the expressions “less is more” and “more or less”) people often use less when fewer is the right choice.
Right: “We need more signal, less noise.”
Right: “We have more choices, but fewer good ones.”
Fewer is used when you can count what you are talking about (above, you can’t count noise, but you can count choices). If you could add a number to the sentence, use fewer.
Examples: “Fewer people attended the second webinar.” “Fewer people clicked on the About link.” “We have fewer spots available this year.”
Less is used when you couldn’t use a number, as in the famous Miller Light slogan “Great taste. Less filling.” Filling is not something you can count and you wouldn’t say the beer was “five less filling.”
One confusing situation is money. Yes, you can count money, but it’s correct to say “less money” not “fewer money,” because when money is used as a general term, you can’t use a number with it. While you could say you had “100 dollars,” you wouldn’t say you had “100 money.”
For the same reason, less will be also used for all abstract concepts and feelings, such as less time, less stress, or less risk.
* To vs. Two vs. Too
Most people know the difference between these, but are so used to writing to, they use it when they should be using two (the number) or too (meaning also or excessive). So you just need to double-check when you are proofreading (you do proofread, right?) your website.
Here’s one sentence using all three: “I only need two things; don’t send too much to me.”
* Effect vs. Affect
These two are trickier for people to keep track of. Most often, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
To affect something is to change it or have some influence on it: “My desire to have a great website affected my decision to hire a professional web designer.”
An effect is something that is caused, as in the phrase cause and effect. Examples: “My new website has had many positive effects on my business.” “I stopped advertising last month, and the effect was worse than I thought.”
Complicating matters, effect is sometimes used as a verb, meaning to bring about or cause something. It’s often used in this way in the expression to effect change: “The CEO’s desire to effect change in the organization led him to merge sales and marketing.”
* Lead vs. Led
The confusion for many is that lead is pronounced two ways: LEED (long e sound, when referring to leadership) and LED (short e sound, when referring to the metal traditionally used in pipes).
The past tense of the verb to lead, is led. Examples: “The CEO led the company for six years.” “I led the project to a successful conclusion.” “A great leader leads by example, and Tom led his team that way each and every day.”
* Choose vs. Chose, Lose vs. Loose
Choose is the present tense verb meaning to make a choice, to select or decide. Chose is simply the past tense: “It was hard to choose, but I chose the more expensive option.”
While that’s simple enough, people often get confused because loose looks like choose but lose is the verb that actually rhymes with the verb choose. Example: “If you don’t choose, you lose.”
Lose is the present tense verb meaning to be deprived or cease to have something. The past tense is lost.
Loose is unrelated to lose; it means the opposite of tight, not firm or fixed.
So, make sure you do not write: “Act now or you’ll loose this opportunity to save.” If you do, your loose command of grammar may make you lose customers.
We’ll follow up next week with more grammar tips to keep your website in tip top shape.
Once again, have a happy Grammar Day. (But don’t go too crazy.)