THIS CAN OFTEN be a touchy subject to approach with people, especially people in a professional setting, because they take themselves very seriously when they’re at work—which is good. However, too often, I find myself sitting across the desk from an applicant whose resume looks great, they have a confident and professional appearance, they even look me in the eye when they shake my hand, and when I ask them why they want to work for my company, they say, “Because, supposably, sir, this is the best company around for what I want to do.” He or she might as well have ridden to work on a unicycle while juggling bowling pins because as their interviewer (and future boss), I now question their professional communication skills and potential value at my company.
I’m not denying that intelligent people sometimes make mistakes, but in contemporary business, communication is key. If someone can’t communicate effectively, intelligently and professionally, then I’d rather find someone else who can. Acknowledging that just because you say that you like to eat “eye-talian” food, you might not be a total moron, but we, at Expert Business Advice, want to help you with that boost onto the next rung of that professional ladder; and if that means the difference in your ability to produce a piece of corporate literature that your superiors wouldn’t be embarrassed to distribute to upper-management or even the shareholders, then please read on. I’ve discovered that most of the below helpful nuggets are more clarification facts than teaching points. It’s stuff you already know, or may have been “pretty sure” about, but never received positive clarity one way or the other. It might seem elementary, but I promise that if you can simply retain and apply what you read below (bookmark this article and refer back to it later, if you want), you will sound more intelligent than 99% of your peers and the vast majority of your superiors.
Some of this might seem a little silly to actively try to correct. “So what,” you say, “everybody says ‘towards’ and writes alright.” I’m here to tell you that, as a corporate supervisor and professional writer, no they don’t, but I will admit that most people do. So my next question is this: Do you want to be wrong like your ignorant peers, or do you want to be one of the few right ones--the best ones? This stuff doesn’t take much to retain; in fact, I’ve even given you several practical applications. Most of this will stick to your brain like glue because you’ll find that it really makes sense.
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Mispronunciations & Multiple Words that Sound Alike and are Often Misused:
Accept, Except: Accept means to receive, while except means to exclude.
Adverse, Averse: Adverse means difficult, averse means having a strong feeling against (like an aversion).
Effect, Affect: An effect is a result, affect usually means to alter.
Allusion, Illusion: An allusion is an indirect reference. An illusion is a misconception or false impression. Did you catch my allusion to Edgar Allan Poe? The magician didn’t actually saw the girl in half; it was simply an optical illusion.
Alright: Contrary to popular belief, this just isn't a word. You should use all right. Sometimes, if you’re writing dialogue for a screenplay or something, you can write alright, because that’s how it’s most commonly spoken, but otherwise, in formal business writing, stick with all right. All right?
Ask, Ax: While we all come from different cultural backgrounds and avenues of ethnic diversity, and each deserves the utmost respect from all others, we should also recognize that here at Expert Business Advice, regardless of our backgrounds, we have come together in order to succeed in a professional business environment. While conducting business in a professional environment, it is very important to recognize the difference between ask and ax. Ask is a verb meaning to verbally submit a query, while an ax is a tool used by a lumberjack to cut down trees, or a weapon used by Vikings to conquer opponents. While this confusion is uncommon in writing, it can be very common in speech and will make you sound extremely unintelligent, uneducated and unprofessional.
Assure, Ensure, Insure: Assure means to guarantee, Ensure means to make sure, and Insure should only be used when talking about insurance.
Capital, Capitol: Capital refers to a city, capitol to a building where lawmakers meet. Capital also refers to wealth or resources. The capitol sits on the opposite side of the National Mall in Washington D.C. The residents of Austin, the capital of Texas, protested the development plans. We are going to launch the website as soon as we finish acquiring enough investment capital to pay the staff for the duration of the market-test.
Climactic, Climatic: Climactic is derived from climax, the point of greatest intensity in a series or progression of events. Climatic is derived from climate; it refers to meteorological conditions. The climactic period in the film was when the girl agreed to marry the protagonist, despite the fact that he had grown a tail as a result of the radiation. The severe climatic conditions always cause the dog to hide under the bed.
Compliment, Complement: A compliment is praise, to complement is to go well with something else.
Componentry: This one is relatively uncommon, unless you work in fabrication or engineering. Often mistaken around the shop, componentry is just a churched-up (and incorrect) way to say components. Very similar to this engineering misnomer is schematical, as in schematical drawings. Just say schematics or schematic drawings and you’ll be in the right.
Could of: When you think about it, this doesn't even make sense. Use could have, or could’ve.
Discreet, Discrete: Discreet is to be careful, Discrete means distinct.
Elicit, Illicit: Elicit is a verb meaning to bring out or to evoke. Illicit is an adjective meaning unlawful. The detective was unable to elicit information from the locals about illicit drug trafficking in the neighborhood.
Emigrate from, Immigrate to: Emigrate means to leave one country or region to settle in another. In 1870, my great-grandfather emigrated from France. Immigrate means to enter another country and reside there. Many Mexicans immigrate to the United States to find work.
Farther, Further: Farther refers to distance, further means more.
Foreword, Forward: A Foreword is the beginning of a book, forward is a direction and the opposite of backward (also, never ends in s).
i.e, e.g: In Latin i.e means "that is," while e.g means "for example."
Its, It's: Its is possessive - something that belongs to someone, It's is short for “it is.”
Labtop, Laptop: Labtop is not a word. The computer sits on your lap, not your lab, even if you’re a scientist.
Like: Don't say like fifteen times in a sentence. Like is not a placeholder.
Loose, Lose: Loose is the opposite of tight, lose is the opposite of win.
Nuclear, Nucular: This is a major mispronunciation. I’ve never seen anyone actually write nucular, but I've definitely have heard them say it. Nuclear is correct, nucular isn’t even a word. The trick to the pronunciation is to simply read and say the word exactly how it’s written.
Precede, Proceed: Something precedes if it comes first, proceeds if it follows.
Principle, Principal: Principal is a noun meaning the head of a school or an organization, or a sum of money. Principle is a noun meaning a basic truth or law. The principal taught us many vital life principles.
No, Know: No is the opposite of yes. Know refers to something you've learned. Know when to say ‘no’ to popular colloquialisms in a professional setting.
Supposedly: This could be the most mispronounced word in the English-speaking world. We’ve all heard it: “Supposably.” Maybe we’ve even said it once (only once, right?). It sounds like mud dripping out of your mouth. Nevertheless, I hear it all time. Don’t be one of those people; I’ll leave it at that.
Than, Then: Than is used for comparisons, then means it came next. I like steak more than fish. We went to dinner, then to a movie.
There, Their, They're: There is a place, their is something that belongs to them, they're is short for They Are. There are two monsters that live in their closet and they’re scaring them to death!
To, Two, Too: Two is a number, too means also, to is used with verbs (going to). We have two cats. I like cats, too! Let’s go to the cat store and buy one.
Weather, Whether: Weather is what the meteorologists predict, whether is used when making a choice. I don’t know whether or not to go out in this terrible weather.
Whose, Who’s: Whose is possessive, who's is short for who is.
Your, You're: Your is something that belongs to you, you're is short for you are.
Words That Don't Sound Alike but Confuse Us Anyway:
Lie, Lay: This one’s a little tricky. Lie means to recline or rest on a surface. Its principal parts are lie, lay, lain. Lie can also mean to say something that isn’t true. Lay means to put or place. Its principal parts are lay, laid. Think of it like this: Chickens lay eggs. I lie down when I am tired.
Less, Fewer: In general, if you can count the number of something, say fewer. Otherwise, say less. Don’t get tripped up by all the incorrect grocery stores in the world; “ten items or less” is just plain wrong. Since you can count items, the correct way is to say, “ten items or fewer.” Fewer children, fewer questions, fewer cars, fewer embarrassing statements. Less water, less hope, less pain, less time. Water and time are tricky because you can count water in gallons and time in seconds--yes, you’re right. So then, say fewer seconds of time, fewer gallons of water, or simply the more general, less time or less water.
Set, Sit: Set means to put or to place. Its principal parts are set, set, set. Sit simply means to be seated. Its principal parts are sit, sat, sat. He set the flower pot by the window. The dog sat by the door all day.
Who, Which, That: Do not use which to refer to persons. Use who instead. That, though generally used to refer to things, may be used to refer to a group or class of people. I just saw a boy who was wearing a pirate costume. I have to go to English next, which is my hardest class. Where is the magazine that I was reading?
Good, Well: This happens every day at the office. Someone asks you in the morning, “Good morning; how are you?” If you say, “I’m doing good,” I’m afraid you’re incorrect. Although a bazillion people in the world say that they’re doing good, the people who know the difference and use the correct response, “I’m doing well,” secretly snicker (or very subtly roll their eyes) at the ones who say it incorrectly. On one of my favorite prime time major-network sitcoms, one of the characters helps us remember the difference when he corrects someone who says that they’re doing good, by saying, “Superman does good. You do well. You need to study your grammar, son!” While the presentation is hilarious, the goofy character is correct. Unless you plan on spending your day saving the world or doing charitable favors for people, you are doing well.
Supposed to: Do not omit the “d.” Suppose to is incorrect.
Used to: Same as above. Do not write use to.
Irregardless: This is a big one. Everyone has a button and this one is mine. My friends and colleagues like to jokingly use this around me because they know that it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me and hearing it spoken will probably give me an eye-twitch. If you say this to try to add emphasis to what you’re saying or just want to sound smarter, do yourself (and me) a favor and say regardless. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of regardless either, although technically correct, because it’s a generally unnecessary word, but some people like it and use it anyway. I could go into why irregardless isn’t a real word—it’s considered nonstandard because of the double negative elements ir- and –less—but just take my word for it and don’t use it. If not for me, then for your reputation around the office.
Toward, Anyway: There is no s at the end of these words. Ever. Although very common, towards and anyways are nonstandard and always incorrect.
Couldn't care less: This is another big one. Ensure this statement is negative. Not, I could care less, which means that however much you care (which is probably little to none), you could care a lot less than that, which is, I bet, the exact opposite of what you mean. If this seems confusing, just think of the literal meanings of the words and not the common misusage and you’ll be fine.
For all intents and purposes: Not intensive purposes. This one just makes me laugh when I hear people say it. Not because I’m trying to call attention to their imperfections, but because the misused statement sounds funny to me. Irregardless (just kidding), keep using the statement in the applications you always have, just ensure you say the correct words.
Cease and desist: Not cease and assist. Unless you want to stop and help, this isn’t want you mean. Typically, cease and desist pertains to a legal document that literally means to stop what you’re doing. If you own a small drink company and decide to name your new lemon-lime beverage, “Sprite,” you should expect a cease and desist letter from the Coca-Cola Company, if they don’t decide to just sue the pants off you without warning. Otherwise, if you’re just saying it to be cute, cease and desist means to stop.
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This is simply a brief collection of the most commonly written and spoken mistakes. I hope that you learned something and feel more comfortable in your ability to write and speak correctly and effectively in a professional setting. The reality is that nobody is perfect. Remember, just because you can now discern and articulately explain the difference between except and accept, don’t use your powers for evil and go calling people out with the ‘reply all’ function in your email to everyone in your office when someone makes a mistake, especially if that someone is your boss. You might not see results immediately, but I guarantee that, over time, your superior grasp of professional and articulate language will serve you well and pay off dividends in your career.
Other important notes to keep in mind if you don't want to sound like an idiot in a professional setting are that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s best to stay out of the conversational limelight. This might work when you’re out on the weekends and everyone’s had a few drinks, but if you go running your mouth for no reason or start spewing made-up facts about stuff you don’t actually know anything about, you run the risk of annoying everyone, or worse, getting called out by someone who actually does know about the subject.
Also, if you want to be listened to when you speak, do your best to limit, “umm’s” and “like’s.” It’s annoying to listen to and people tend to zone-out if you use them too often. A trick I always use is the brief silent pause. If I need a moment to collect my thoughts, I will simply stop talking for a moment, even in the middle of a sentence. It’s clear to everyone that I’m not finished speaking, but it doesn’t fill the air with incessant noise, like I have a slow brain and the words just aren’t connecting fast enough to form a normally spoken sentence. Also, the silent pause makes it seem like I’m really concentrating on what I’m going to say and the people with whom I’m speaking think I’m about to say something really profound, even if I just pause and say something like, “I think that…(pause)…I’m going to change that light bulb in my garage this weekend.” Practice using the silent pause instead of, “ummm” and “like” and discover how, immediately, people like talking to you more.
We’ve all heard the saying that, in business, “time is money.” Thus, it is a true statement to say that when you speak or write in a professional setting, it is the quality of what you say that matters, not the quantity. If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more, please check out the sequel here!