Grammar and Punctuation: Make a Great First Impression

You’ve just written a business report, blog post, news article, copy for your website or marketing piece, and you’re ready to hit Publish. But wait — are you sure your copy is error free?

Every word you publish under your name or the name of your business represents you. That sentence may be your potential client’s or employer’s only impression of you. Be sure it’s professional, clean, and correct.

I wish I had a dime for every online article I’ve started to share, but realized there’s an egregious typo in the heading. Or an apostrophe that doesn’t belong. Or the lack of a comma that makes the sentence unclear. Share it and perpetuate the error under my name? I’ll pass.

All of us make mistakes from time to time, but some are so obvious that it’s clear that proofreading has been considered a luxury. That’s not OK, friends.

Let’s say you’ve landed a job interview. It’s an incredible opportunity and you’d love to have this job. You choose carefully what to wear, get dressed, and leave the house. Do you glance in the mirror, or do you just trust that you look great? Are you sure your tie is straight? Or that you don’t have lipstick on your teeth?

Of course you don’t leave it to chance. You check the mirror, inspect yourself closely before you walk out the door.

Why does it matter that your shoes are shined and your suit is pressed? Why does it matter what you wear? What difference does it make if your tie is straight if you have the ability to do the job? Shouldn’t you be able to show up in jeans and a torn t-shirt and still be evaluated on what you know and what you can do?

Yes, of course you should. But the world doesn’t really work that way, does it? Impressions matter, appearance matters, and how you express yourself matters. Depending on your profession it may be a deal breaker.

Here are three common grammar errors that I see frequently from writers who ought to know better.

1. The Apostrophe

Use it or Lose It

The apostrophe trips up writers from beginners to some of the best. Usually it’s added where it isn’t needed rather than omitted where it is called for. Here’s a quick test to see if you need an apostrophe. I call this Use it or Lose It.

Is the word possessive?

Dog’s bone = it belongs to the dog.

Dogs’ bone = one bone shared by more than one dog.

Use it and note the different between the singular possessive and the plural possessive.

Let’s try another one.

I have two dogs = plural, as it’s talking about more than one dog.

Feed the dogs.

Lose the apostrophe, there’s no possessive there.

Never, never, ever, ever use an apostrophe to make a word plural. Never. Have I made myself clear?

Have you skipped a word or letter?

Let’s  = Let us. Use it. 

Lets = Allows to. Lose it.

It’s = It is. Use it.

Its = Belonging to it. Lose it.

What about names?

The Smiths  = The family named Smith. Lose it.

The Smiths’  = Belonging to the family named Smith. The Smiths’ home. Use it. But only at the end, never before the s.

Never: The Smith’s home. Unless you’re talking about a single blacksmith, and then you wouldn’t capitalize it.

But what if it ends in an s?

The Sanders = the family named Sanders. Move along, there’s nothing possessive here. Lose it.

The Sanders’ home. It’s our home and there are two of us. Use it.

This is where the Sanders live. No possession. Lose it.

Never, never, ever, ever The Sander’s, The Smith’s or the <insertyourlastname here>’s. Ever.

2. Pronouns


Pronouns can be tricky. I’m going to start with what I think is one of the trickiest: myself.

As everyone’s high school English teacher says, “Think about how you would write the sentence if you were the only one in it.”

Don’t use myself unless it is the object of the sentence; never as the subject.


Jim and myself went to dinner.

Jim and I went to dinner.

Myself and Jim went to dinner. NO.

As the object:

I shot myself in the foot.

I saw myself in the mirror.

I’m only fooling myself.

See the difference?

Lots of people think it sounds more polite or sophisticated to say “myself” when they mean “me.” It’s not. It’s OK to say “me.”

Another way to determine whether myself is called for is to ask yourself if you’ve said “I” in the sentence. If not, no. If so, yes.

When in doubt, don’t use myself.

3. Word Pairs

Spell check will not catch word pair errors unless the words themselves are spelled incorrectly. These words are easily mistaken, and if you don’t proofread carefully, or just don’t know the difference, you’ll miss them. Study the definitions and use the pnemonic devices I’ve included to help you remember. Here are five commonly missed word pairs.

A. Adverse/Averse

Adverse: Unfavorable. The  cold weather had an adverse effect on my plants; they all died.

Averse: Something that is disliked. My husband, Jim, doesn’t like change; he is change averse. My lawyer is risk averse.

Remember it: We tend to avert (turn away from) things we don’t like.

B. Misnomer/Misconception

Misnomer: Wrongly named. It literally means “Wrong (mis-) name (nom). It’s a misnomer to call a seven-foot man “Shorty.”

Misconception: Wrong idea. To assume that all suburbanites are wealthy is a misconception.

Remember it: The concept represents an idea.

C. Tenet/Tenant

Tenet: A belief or principle. You must agree with the tenets of this organization if you want to join.

Tenant: A renter. Bob was a great tenant; he always paid his rent on time.

Remember it: A noun that uses the -ant suffix often represents a person doing something, defendant, assailant, contestant.

D. Less/Fewer

Less: Collective noun – all of the water in the ocean – less water

Fewer: Countable. all of the boats in the ocean.

Remember it: f you can count the items, use fewer.

E. Regimen/Regiment

Regimen: A routine or plan. Her diet and exercise regimen enabled her to run a marathon.

Regiment: (Noun) a military ground unit; (Verb) to subject to strict discipline. The regiment followed a strict training regimen.

Remember it: A strict diet may be a regimented regimen.

Bookmark this article so you can refer back to it as needed. I’ll follow up soon with more writing and grammar tips.

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