There are two types of people: the people who give a crap about grammar and the people who don’t give a crap about grammar. If you’re creating content on behalf of your company, chances are there is at least one person in your audience who gives a crap.
Businesses are publishing content all the time— even if it’s just a few words. They’re posting on Facebook, Tweeting, blogging, and so on. Just as quickly as a message can be posted online, it can just as easily be seen by just one user who will be more than happy to point out how you used the wrong form of “than.”
A while back I discussed five common grammar mistakes that even the best writers make.
Here are five more rules to refresh your memory and make your fourth grade teacher proud.
Affect vs. Effect
The good news is that you don’t really have to worry about this one when it comes to speaking. Writing, on the other hand, opens you up to some judgement if you mess up!
But it’s simple if you can just remember that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. Think of the movie The Butterfly Effect. In that title, how can “effect” possibly be a verb?!
Incorrect: The cold medicine is effecting my concentration.
Correct: The cold medicine is having an effect on my concentration.
Whether vs. If
This one is especially tricky because the two words really are interchangeable in some situations. In any case, it’s best to be aware of the distinction so you’re not left with an ambiguous sentence.
Here’s an example of when they’re interchangeable:
Sandy didn’t know whether Dave would contribute $20 to the pool of money.
Sandy didn’t know if Dave would contribute $20 to the pool of money.
And here’s where they’re not interchangeable:
Sandy didn’t know whether Dave would contribute $20 or $30 to the pool of money.
Sandy didn’t know if Dave would contribute $20 or $30 to the pool of money.
In the first sentence, Sandy’s unsure about the amount Dave plans to contribute. In the second sentence, there’s the chance that Dave may not contribute anything at all!
Allusion vs. Illusion
Another case of similar-sounding, similarly-spelled confusion.
“Allusion” is a reference to something— very commonly a literary reference. Think about its verb form, “to allude.”
Correct: “That episode of Gilmore Girls made several allusions to The Scarlet Letter.”
“Illusion” is something that’s a wrong understanding or perception (think of an optical illusion).
Correct: I thought I saw a dog wearing sunglasses, but I guess it was just an illusion.”
Modifiers are words, phrases or clauses that describe a word or group of words. Dangling modifiers occur when these descriptive phrases are followed by a noun that shouldn’t be described by the particular phrase.
Incorrect: Hot and buttery, Laura ate the lobster.
Whoa there! I’m not hot and buttery in this situation— the lobster is.
Correct: Laura ate the hot and buttery lobster.
Comprise vs. Compose
I saved this one for last because it’s a doozy. Let’s talk about “comprise” first.
“Comprise” simply means “to contain,” therefore requiring that something that is whole contains parts. In a sentence, you’d say “The boy band comprises five members.” In this case, the whole contains multiple parts.
You wouldn’t say “Five members comprise the boy band” because if you replace “comprise” with “contain,” it doesn’t make sense (but see how “contains” works in the first sentence).
“Compose” simply means “to make up.” In a sentence, you’d say “Fifty states compose our nation.” In this case, many parts make up a whole.
Now that that’s out of the way, what about “is composed of” and “is comprised of?” We hear them both so often that they must be interchangeable! Wrong. “Is comprised of” is not a correct phrase. You can’t say “The boy band is comprised of five members” just as much as you can’t say “The boy band is contained of five members.” You can, however, say “The boy band is composed of five members.”
Grammar mistakes happen to the best of us, but keep these tips in mind for grammatically-correct content that will wow your readers– especially the ones who give a crap about grammar.