Whether writing to upper-level management or to a first-time client, crafting an error-free email can be tricky even for the most educated professionals. Certain grammar mistakes are all too common, while others are more subtle and harder to catch; however, any of these errors will make a less-than-positive impression on your reader. Proofread your work email for these eleven (11) grammar traps for a smarter-sounding message.
- You’re vs. Your: One of the most common grammar mistakes, using the wrong form of “you’re/your,” will aggravate any grammar stickler. Distinguish the two by remembering that “your” is possessive and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”
- They’re/Their/There: Similar to “you’re/your,” this homophonic trifecta is an all too common error, so keep in mind that “there” refers to a place, and “their” is possessive belonging to a group. The contraction “they’re” is short for “they are.”
- Me vs. I: While this mistake is harder to correct, use the proper pronoun when referring to yourself. Here’s how: write down or say the sentence out loud without the other name mentioned (e.g., “Sharon and me will call you” becomes “Me will call you”). If it doesn’t sound right, rewrite the sentence with the correct pronoun (“Sharon and I will call you”).
- i.e. vs. e.g.: As an author I use both of these abbreviations frequently. The easiest way to remember the difference is that e.g. means “for example” or “example here” to add color to the story. However, i.e. translates to “in other words” or “that is” for further explanation.
- Who vs. That: Use “who” to refer to an individual. Use “that” to refer to objects and tangible things. Example: Kristen is the person who is in charge of the office. Asana is the software that is used for organizing team projects.
- Do’s & Don’ts: The apostrophe in “do’s” makes it plural which typically isn’t done; however, it is correct with the AP Style Guide. Different schools of thought have various opinions about this punctuation. Research organizational policy and be consistent with the relevant Style Guide (e.g. AP, Chicago).
- Its vs. It’s: “Its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” Be cautious because “it’s” has an ‘s which traditionally indicates possession. However, in this instance it’s a contraction.
- Less is More: Remember that the phrase “I could care less” actually means that you may care much more than you intended to imply. The correct version is “I couldn’t care less,” though this frank formulation may not be the most polite expression for formal business emails.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.