The B2B Copywriting Guide to 20 Common Grammar Goofs
Grammar goofs are like bad apples. Just one can spoil everything. You want your B2B copy to convey professionalism and competence, but a grammar mistake does the exact opposite. Unfortunately, no one’s perfect, English is complicated and some of the rules keep evolving. Every insurance and B2B copywriter can use a little help now and then. That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate guide to 20 common grammar goofs.
1. Always Capitalizing Internet
Do you still capitalize internet? Although that was considered standard in the early days of dial-up modems, many style guides have switched to the lowercase form. The same applies to web, and you can drop the hyphen from email.
2. Not Capitalizing Brands
Kleenex is a brand name and should always be capitalized. The same goes for Band-Aid. When you are not referring to the brand, it’s better to use the generic terms facial tissue and adhesive bandage, respectively.
3. Not Knowing When to Capitalize Job Titles
Many people capitalize job titles when it is not correct to do so. According to the AP Stylebook, job titles should be capitalized only when they are formal titles used directly before the name.
Correct: She is the president of the company.
4. Putting Periods and Commas After a Quote
Correct: The president gave a speech.
Correct: I listened to President Trump’s speech.
The addition of quotations can make punctuation tricky. Although there are some regional and style differences, the AP Stylebook recommends always putting periods and commas before the close-quote mark. The location of dashes, semicolons, question marks and exclamation points, however, depends on whether they are part of the quote.
Correct: She said, “I hate punctuation.”
5. Not Knowing When to Use Hyphens
Correct: She said the book was “spectacular.”
Correct: She asked, “Do you need help?”
Correct: Who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?
Hyphens are used to link two or more words to avoid ambiguity. While hyphens are considered standard in certain phrases, there is a noticeable lack of standardization for other phrases. When in doubt, check a good dictionary and be consistent. Note that hyphens are not needed when an “-ly” adverb comes before an adjective, but other adverbs often require hyphens for clarity.
Correct: She has a three-year-old daughter.
6. Adding Two Spaces After a Period
Correct: Her daughter is three years old.
Correct: She saw a well-dressed man waving at her.
Correct: She is a highly respected woman.
You may have learned this rule in school, but it’s outdated advice based on what looks good when using a typewriter. These days, one space is sufficient.
7. Not Knowing When to Use Figures
Numbers are tricky. When should you spell them out and when should you use figures? Different style guides will give you different answers, so the key is to be consistent. The AP Stylebook recommends spelling out numbers one through nine and using figures for larger numbers in most cases.
8. Not Knowing How to Write Percentages
Percentages can come up a lot in B2B writing, so you want to know how to write them correctly. According to the AP Stylebook, you should write percent as one word. Use figures, even for numbers one through nine.
Correct: 5 percent
9. Confusing There, Their and They’re
Correct: 55 percent
These three words sound alike, but they’re used very differently.
• There refers to place and is similar to It’s also used in the phrase there are or there is.
Correct: There are many mistakes in your post.
Correct: Don’t come here. I’ll go there.
• Their is possessive.
Correct: The men and women showed their tickets.
• They’re is a contraction of they and are.
Correct: They’re ready to begin work.
10. Confusing Your and You’re
• Your is possessive.
Correct: Don’t share your password.
• You’re is a contraction of you and are.
Correct: When you’re ready, call me.
11. Confusing Its and It’s
• Its is possessive.
Correct: The company opened its doors.
• It’s is a contraction of it and is or of it and has.
Correct: It’s nice to see you.
Correct: It’s been a busy year.
12. Confusing Than and Then
• Then is an adjective referring to time.
Correct: Finish the report. Then give it to me.
• Than is used in comparisons.
The new website is easier to navigate than the old website.
13. Confusing Which and That
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, the careful writer will make a distinction.
That is used to introduce essential clauses. That should be used for things and sometimes animals, but not for people. Which is also used to refer to things, but it introduces nonessential clauses.
Correct: He read the email that I had sent him.
14. Confusing Who and Whom
Correct: He read my email, which I had sent that morning.
Many people use who in all situations. However, in formal writing, whom should be used when it is an object. If you have trouble deciding which form to use, reword the sentence with he or him. If he is correct, use who. If him is correct, use whom.
Correct: May I speak with the person who is in charge? (He is in charge.)
15. Misusing Latin Abbreviations
Correct: The man with whom I spoke was very polite. (I spoke with him.)
Latin abbreviations are common in English, but because they come from a different language, they often lead to confusion.
• Use e. (for id est) to mean in other words.
Correct: She specializes in car insurance for individuals, i.e., personal auto insurance.
• Use g. (for exempli gratia) to mean for example.
Correct: She sells many insurance products, e.g., life and auto.
• Use (for et cetera) to mean and so on. Because et is Latin for and, do not say “and … etc.”
Correct: She sells all types of insurance: property, life, auto, disability, etc.
16. Being Redundant
Redundancies can take many forms. To improve your writing, remove words that are repetitive and therefore unnecessary.
Incorrect: Please reply back by Friday.
17. Using They as a Singular Pronoun
Correct: Please reply by Friday.
Incorrect: Where is the nearest ATM machine?
Correct: Where is the nearest ATM?
Some rules are made to be broken. While they, them and their are plural pronouns and should generally be used as such, actual usage can get complicated. The AP Stylebook now allows they to be used as a singular pronoun in certain cases, especially to avoid awkward phrasing. However, whenever possible, maintain agreement between the pronoun and the noun it replaces. Note that it is often easier to make the original noun plural than it is to replace they.
Incorrect: When a customer enters the store, greet them.
18. Insisting on More Than
Correct: When customers enter the store, greet them.
Language evolves. The AP Stylebook used to insist that over could not replace more than to refer to greater numerical value. However, the current rule states that either phrase is acceptable. Of course, if you prefer to follow the old rule, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t correct other writers for being more flexible.
Correct: The company gained more than 100 new clients last year.
19. Using Less Instead of Fewer
Also correct: The company gained over 100 new clients last year.
Not all rules change. While many people use less in all situations, fewer should be used when discussing countable nouns, i.e., nouns that refer to individual people or items and can be plural.
Correct: less money
20. Just Guessing
Correct: fewer people
Correct: fewer books
When in doubt, look it up. Even the most experienced copywriter will occasionally be uncertain about the correct usage of a phrase. There’s nothing wrong with this! However, a good copywriter will take the time to check the correct usage.
Your client may have a house style guide or another preferred style guide. If so, use it. Otherwise, use a widely accepted style guide. The AP Stylebook is an excellent choice for B2B copywriters.