I have a number of writing friends – other copywriters, advertising copywriters, book editors, journalists – and, when we get together, the conversation almost always visits the incorrect use of some word or another. Maybe we are pedantic, perhaps boring (to others, but never to each other) – and I know English is a challenging language with so many inconsistent spellings, sounds and irregular verbs – but sometimes we just can’t see why people get even the simplest things wrong.
I met a new writer last week and she has an additional challenge to get over; English is not her first language – but she writes it exceptionally well (better than many native speakers). Of course, we got onto the inaccuracies of other people’s writing. She exclaimed “‘I hope your well’!”
“Oh yes” I agreed, “I hate that – and when I get emails that start with that I always want to reply ‘You hope my well is what?'” That started a what-people-get-wrong fest.
Advice – or advise? At least they do actually sound different, but what about practice and practise, or licence and license? One is a noun, the other a verb (unless you’re American, in which case you just use the ‘c’ version for everything).
Complimentary or complementary?
Lose or loose? This is so common and they are two completely different words.
Then we got into they’re, there, their and more.
We had a lovely time pinging the errors of English to and fro. Then I left to pick up some groceries and discovered on the shelves of Tesco a pack of magnolia loo rolls that had the slogan:
Noooo! Not ‘less lorries’; it should be ‘fewer lorries’. When numbers are involved, it’s fewer. Fewer people, less ice cream; fewer books, less work. Get it?
Why am I so fussy about this? I’m not alone in my fussiness, there are plenty of people out there who like English to be used with flair and care, not trampled upon indiscriminately. They could be that dream client you have been hoping to attract, but if they read inaccurate English on your website or marketing materials – or even in the email you sent to them – what do they think of you? Attention to detail? Hmmmm. Basic knowledge of English not great; what does that say about your overall expertise?
I know that this is not necessarily the case, but people make judgments – sometimes without realising it – and it can be a long uphill struggle to regain ground you’ve lost – if you get the chance at all. Brush up your English grammar, spelling and punctuation – or get an expert on board to help.