flickr.com/Marco Arment

In an industry where your reputation truly hangs by a comma, you can’t afford the slightest grammar mistake in your copy. Readers lose respect for your message when they come across the improper use of affect or effect, even though these are innocent mistakes to make.

Even the best editors will miss a grammar mistake every now and then, even when they’re obvious. Should that detract from the validity of a message though?

Do we judge Apple for one malfunctioning iPhone 5? Certainly not, the idea is preposterous. But you can bet the public would be up in arms over a capitalized “I” in iPhone in one of their national advertisements. Nothing but perfection is expected from your print media, even if the reader is an atrocious writer themselves.

Although you cannot be perfect, you can certainly help yourself get closer to that goal by engraining a few of the most commonly misused words in the English language into your brain. The following is a review of 4 common errors. I’ve also listed a memorable mnemonic to help you remember each of them as you write.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. They mean the same thing, only the first letter changes according to part of speech.

Eg. How will the drug affect me? vs. The drug will have negative side effects.

Mnemonic: Aardvark is a Very Easy Noun (AVEN). A = Verb, E = Noun.

That vs. Which

“That” connects restrictive elements to a clause. Restrictive elements are phrases required for the meaning to come through clearly.

Eg. Music that inspires me is my favorite kind.

The word “which” allows you to insert a non-restrictive element into a clause. “Which” acts as a side-note that the sentence could live without.

Eg. Music, which inspires me, is my favorite kind.

Mnemonic (paradoxical): Use that to tell which, and which to tell that.

Compliment vs. Complement

A compliment, with an “i,” is a nice or flattering remark. It is given by one person to another.

A complement, with an “e,” is when two colors, personalities, buildings, etc. match. They don’t say anything, they just make sense together.

Eg. Jack and John’s personalities complement each other.

Mnemonic: “I” like to give compliments.

Coordinating Conjunctions

The coordinating conjunctions are For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So. They are often used to split two independent clauses. In many cases, they require a semicolon before the conjunction and comma to follow the phrase.

Eg. I think you should clean the dishes; and if you won’t, you can cook your own meal tomorrow.

Mnemonic: FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

As you prepare your copy for SEO, marketing, or internal purposes, be sure to use the right words. It can be embarrassing for your company when you don’t. It could save your job.

Jamie Bates