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Less… or Fewer? Spelling and Grammar Mistakes BAs Need to Avoid

Some people think that the ‘correct’ use of English is 'elitist' or even irrelevant in these days of abbreviated texts, voice notes and quick-fire emails. However, if you are a business professional hoping to make a good impression, you need to think differently. 

Put yourself in the position of the reader. If you read a communication or report filled with spelling and grammar errors, what impression would it give you? Perhaps that the writer:

•    Is lazy and cannot be bothered to write correctly and accurately?

•    Is ignorant and just don't know what is correct?

•    Has no respect for you as the reader?

It’s widely accepted that the key competencies of a business analyst include communication, influencing and the ‘selling’ of ideas, concepts and solutions. So, it certainly won’t help your case if your colleagues and stakeholders think you lack fundamental communication skills  . At the very least, if you cannot present yourself as a credible professional, it is unlikely you will be able to sell your ideas to anyone.

Some Common Spelling and Grammar Mistakes 

There are some ‘grey’ areas where there is genuine dispute among scholars of literature about what is or is not correct. Many cannot bear split infinitives while others (such as the writers of Star Trek) will (boldly) go there. But some things are just wrong, and spelling and grammar software does not always pick up these errors. Most of us, if we are brave enough to admit it, have one or two ‘blind spots’. 

Here are some common errors to avoid:

Alot vs. A lot – This is not one word, it is ‘a lot’. And allot means something different entirely. 

Could of, Should of – Incorrect. The correct grammar is to say: ‘Could have’ and ‘Should have’. 

Their, They’re and There – The correct use is to say: ‘They’re eating their ice-creams over there.’

You’re vs. Your – You’re is a contraction of ‘You are’. Your is a statement about owning something. ‘You’re looking good today’ vs. ‘Tie your shoelaces’.

Who’s vs. Whose – Who’s is a contraction of ‘Who is’. Whose is also a statement about owning something. ‘The teacher who’s very strict’ vs. ‘The teacher, whose lessons were always well prepared’.

Affect vs. Effect – Affect is a verb that means ‘to cause an effect’. The effect results from an occurrence that has affected something. ‘The difficulty of the questions affected the exam results’ vs. ‘The effect of the rain was major flooding’.

That vs. Which – That is used to introduce a clause that adds necessary information to a sentence. Which is used to introduce a clause that adds detail but isn’t critical to the sentence. ‘The dog that barked all night is a stray’ Vs. ‘the article on income tax, which I started while eating lunch, is very interesting’.

i.e. vs. e.g. – i.e. clarifies examples, while e.g. gives examples. 

Less vs. Fewer – Less is used to describe an abstract or otherwise unquantifiable   number of items. Fewer is used for countable numbers of items. ‘Less time’ vs. ‘fewer people’.

Me vs. I – Use I when you’re the subject of the sentence and Me when you’re the object of the sentence.  ‘I love him’ vs. ‘He loves me’.

Farther vs. Further – Farther is literal distance. Further means ‘more.’ 'Farther away’ vs. ‘no further contact’.

Like vs. Such as – Like is for comparison, Such as is used when providing examples. ‘Blue like the sky’ vs. ‘Outdoor footwear such as wellington boots and walking boots’.

Compliment vs. Complement – to Compliment is to give praise, to Complement is to enhance or go well with someone or something (and Complementary means free!). The same definitions apply to complimentary and complementary. ‘Her work was good so I gave her a compliment’ vs. ‘The red wine complements the meat’.

Its or It's – It’s is a contraction of ‘it is’.  ‘The frog is too small for its aquarium’ vs. ‘It's always raining.

Lose or Loose – Lose is a verb, loose is an adjective. ‘Do not lose your coat’ vs. ‘These jeans are very loose’.

Weather or Whether – Weather is what we forecast, whether is a conjunction expressing a doubt or choice between alternatives .‘The weather is beautiful today’ vs. ‘I am unsure whether to buy the shoes’.

To, Too or Two – To is used to show motion, too means ‘also’ or ‘extremely’ and two means the number 2. ‘I would like to go to the shop’ vs. ‘I have eaten too much ice cream’ vs. ‘There are two cows in the field’.

Accept or Except – Accept is a verb meaning to take or receive something that’s offered. Except means ‘to exclude, leave out’. ‘The shop does not accept credit cards’ vs. ‘Sam ate everything except the peas’.

Allowed or Aloud – Allowed is the past tense of the verb allow, which means to let something happen. Aloud means the same as ‘out loud’. ‘You are not allowed to smoke in here’ vs. ‘We like to read aloud’.

Principle or Principal – Principal is an adjective meaning ‘the most important’ and can also be a noun referring to a person, for example the leader of a school. Principle can only be a noun and means a fundamental truth, a code or law or a quality motivating behaviour. ‘The school principal led the assembly’ vs.  ‘The same principle applies to all kinds of selling’.

Advice or Advise – Advice is a noun, advise is a verb. ‘John didn’t follow the advice he was given’ vs. ‘Please could you advise which option is better?’.

Were or We’re – Were is a form of ‘to be’. We’re is a contraction of ‘We are’. ‘There were no easy questions in the exam’ vs. ‘We’re not meant to be in here’.

Were or Was - Were refers to the second-person singular and plural form of ‘to be’. Was refers to the first and third person singular form of ‘to be’. 'We were/You were/They were very happy’ vs. ‘I was/ he was/she was very happy’.

Into or In to – The preposition into is extremely common, expressing movement or action with the result that someone or something becomes enclosed or surrounded by something else. But in and to can also appear as separate words next to each other in a sentence, without the same meaning.  ‘She moved the bottles into the other room’ vs. ‘The firefighter ran in to save the girl’. 

Than or Then – Than is used in comparisons. Then is used to talk about time. ‘My dress is prettier than yours’ vs ‘I packed my bag then went to the airport’.

Stationary or Stationery – Stationary means not moving, while stationery refers to paper or other office supplies. ‘The car was stationary’ vs ‘Envelopes are in the stationery cupboard’. 

Elicit or Illicit – Elicit means to extract and illicit means illegal or breaking rules. ‘Please can you elicit the project requirements’ vs.  "Jane's actions were illicit".

Language is always evolving and rules can occasionally be broken, however the competent use of grammar and spelling is essential if you want to communicate clearly. Remember, it is our credibility as business professionals that is at stake here.

Recommended Reading: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. 

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