Common grammar mistakes that will grind an editor’s gears

Feb 18th, 2014

You’ve been blogging since 1998. Your website copy is the most informative in your industry. Your last white paper could earn you a Nobel Prize in Literature. You consulted a shaman, a psychic and a scientist when selecting your keywords. You don’t need to read another blog on improving your content, right? Wrong

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 76% of UK marketers are producing more content than they did a year ago. An increase in content is an increase in the potential to get it wrong.

You may have creative content ideas, a surplus of statistics and industry wisdom coming out of your ears, but if you can’t get the basics right, you’re in trouble.

Misspellings, misused words and misplaced apostrophes not only undermine a business’ credibility as an authority in its industry, research suggests that such preventable mistakes cost UK internet businesses millions of pounds in lost revenue every year.

So, what are the grammar mistakes that are guaranteed to get an editor’s red pen boiling?

1. Common misspellings

It may seem obvious but misspellings that crop up time and time again are the bane of an editor’s life.

Misspellings are not only irritating, they hurt business. Analysis carried out by online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe suggests that a single spelling mistake can cut sales in half, proving that if you want to run a successful content management campaign, you cannot afford to not know the differences between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ and ‘affect’ and ‘effect’.

According to the Oxford English Corpus, top misspellings include:

‘acheive’ for achieve

‘buisness’ for business

‘calender’ for calendar

‘collegue’ for colleague

‘definately’ for definitely

‘knowlege’ for knowledge

‘liase’ for liaise

‘neccessary’ for necessary

‘succesful’ for successful

‘unforseen’ for unforeseen

2. Subject-verb disagreement

The grammar overlords decree that the subject of a sentence must agree with the verb of the sentence in number (singular vs. plural) and in person (first, second or third person).

The following are examples of jarring subject-verb disagreement:

– ‘Content are at the heart of every good digital marketing campaign.’

– ‘Keywords is an essential ingredient in your SEO recipe.’

Collective nouns (nouns that are singular in form but plural in meaning) confuse the subject-verb disagreement issue further. It is worth remembering that when writing about a company or team, a singular verb should be used when they act as one entity and a plural verb should be used when they act separately.


Correct: ‘Click Consult is a digital marketing agency.’

Incorrect: ‘Click Consult are a digital marketing agency.’

Correct: ‘The members of the team are highly skilled SEO experts.’

Incorrect: ‘The members of the team is highly skilled SEO experts.’

3. The inappropriate use of ‘less’ and ‘fewer’

Bad writers would have you think that the words ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ are interchangeable. Well, they’re not.

Grammar gospel states that ‘fewer’ should be used with count nouns and ‘less’ should be used with mass nouns.

According to the Oxford Dictionary:

– a count  noun is a noun that can form a plural and, in the singular, can be used with the indefinite article (e.g. books, a book)

– a mass noun is a noun denoting something which cannot be counted (e.g. a substance or quality), in English usually a noun which lacks a plural in ordinary usage and is not used with the indefinite article, e.g. china, happiness or a noun denoting something which normally cannot be counted but which may be countable when it refers to different units or types, e.g. coffee (drank some coffee, ordered two coffees).

In short, you cannot have fewer money than me or less coins. You can, however, have less money and fewer coins.

4. Confusing ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’

This common mistake is often glossed over by the non-Latin speakers among us but once you understand the meanings of these abbreviations, their misuse will hurt your eyes.

The abbreviation ‘e.g.’ stands for the Latin ‘exempli gratia, meaning ‘for example’. The abbreviation ‘i.e.’ is Latin for ‘id est’, meaning ‘that is to say’.

‘We offer a range of digital marketing services, i.e. paid search, social media, online reputationa management.’

See – it hurts, doesn’t it?

5. The stray or random apostrophe

Apostrophes – you can take them or leave them, right? Wrong.

The decision to use an apostrophe cannot depend on your mood. It’s not like eating chocolate or going out on a Friday night (unfortunately).

Apostrophes should only be used in two situations:

1. to indicate that a letter has been omitted (in ‘I’m’ the apostrophe represents the missing ‘a’ from the word ‘am’)

2. to indicate possession (‘The copywriter’s dictionary is her most prized possession.’)

A simple plural does not require an apostrophe. Mistakes are not ‘mistake’s’.



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