In this article by Sean Matthews, president of software provider Visix, he says even if you’re a communications pro, it is very easy to make mistakes.
There’s a long list of the most common errors in marketing copy today. Some of these might seem obvious, but they are still happening regularly in professional messaging. Reviewing this list can help you be more accurate and look more trustworthy to the people you’re trying to engage:
1. Its, it’s — the first one is possessive; the second one is a contraction for it is or it has.
• The company revised its mission statement.
• It’s always possible to make a difference.
• It’s been a while since I’ve had lunch with Lee.
2. There, their, they’re — the first is an adverb for a location or place; the second is the possessive form of they; and the third is a contraction for they are.
• Do you want to sit here or there?
• Their books are on the table.
• They’re coming to dinner tonight.
3. Your, you’re – the first is possessive; the second is a contraction for you are.
• How did you like your lunch?
• You’re welcome to come to my party.
4. Could/would/should have — these are often mistakenly written as could/would/should of because of spoken contractions like ‘I should’ve talked to her.’
• I could have been a contender.
• I would have come earlier.
• I should have known better.
5. Fewer, less — the first is used for countable nouns; the second is used for uncountable nouns. (So yes, ‘Ten items or less’ at the supermarket is a mistake.)
• I plan to drink fewer colas this week.
• There is less politics at this company than most.
6. To, two, too — the first is either part of the infinitive of a verb (to see) or a preposition meaning towards; the second is the number; the third means also or as well, but can also be an adverb meaning to an excessive degree.
• Two miles is too far to walk to the bookstore for my mother, too.
7. Than, then — the first is used for comparisons; the second shows something follows another in time.
• It’s taller than the Empire State Building.
• I’ll eat lunch and then go to a movie.
8. I, me, myself — the first is used as the subject of phrase (before the verb); the second is the object of a phrase (after the verb); the third is used only when the subject and the object are both the speaker/writer. A simple trick is to take the other person out of the sentence and you’ll quickly see which pronoun to use.
• I went to the store. / Jane and I went to the store.
• Jane came with me. / Jane came with Bob and me.
• I’m doing it for myself. / I gave myself a present.
9. Who, whom — the first is used as the subject of a phrase (before the verb); the second is the object of a phrase (after the verb). One trick is to substitute she or her – if she works use who, if her works use whom. However, hardly anyone uses whom anymore, so feel free to use who for both.
• Who ate my sandwich?
• Whom do you believe?
10. Affect, effect — the first is almost always a verb meaning to influence or have an impact on something; the second is almost always a noun meaning the result of something having an impact on something else, but can be a verb in the sense of to effect change, meaning to bring about something as a result of something else. (Affect is only a noun in psychology.)
• The weather affected my weekend plans.
• Click the button to get the desired effect.
• Management effected many changes to procedure.
11. i.e., e.g. — the first is an abbreviation for id est meaning that is or in other words; the second is an abbreviation for exempli gratia meaning for example.
• I will provide feedback shortly – i.e. one to two business days.
• Jill always eats fruit for breakfast, e.g. bananas, oranges, apples.
12. Whose, who’s — the first is used to assign ownership of something; the second is a contraction of who is.
• Do you know whose book this is?
• Do you know who’s going to be there tonight?
13. Alot, a lot, allot — The first is always a mistake; the second means many and is always followed by of; the third is a verb meaning to set aside a certain amount of something for a purpose.
• I ate a lot of candy.
• I’m going to allot one hour each day for exercise.
14. Lose, loose — the first is a verb meaning to fail to hold on to something; the second is an adjective meaning not tight.
• I don’t want to lose this opportunity.
• My desk has a loose screw.
15. Assure, ensure, insure — the first means to promise or say with confidence; the second means to make certain; and the third means to protect against risk by using an insurance company.
• I can assure you that I’ll be there.
• I want to ensure you can handle the task.
• You should insure the car before your trip.
16. Farther, further — these are used interchangeably in most places. However, some places will differentiate between them with farther referring to physical distances and further referring to figurative distances (and in the U.K. and most Commonwealth nations, further is used for both meanings). Further can also be an adverb meaning additional, and also a verb meaning to help promote or forward something.
• How much farther is it to Prague?
• I’d like to go further with my studies.
• Read chapter three for further information.
• We are working to further our progress in the market.
17. Between, among — the first is used to refer to two separated things; the second is used to refer to things that are not clearly separated because they are part of a group of three or more.
• Our house is between the beach and the forest.
• Our house is among the trees of the forest.
18. Compliment, complement — the first means to praise or express admiration for something or someone; the second means to complete, enhance or make something perfect.
• He paid me a great compliment yesterday.
• This table will complement our living room décor.
19. Into, in to — the first is a preposition of place that implies movement and usually answers the question where; the second is just the coincidence of the word in and the word to being next to each other in a phrase, or a phrasal verb ending in in, followed by to.
• I crawled into bed after a long day. / She went into the café.
• I came in to talk to you. / Everyone pitched in to help.
20. Peek, peak, pique — the first is a verb that means to take a quick look at something; the second is a noun that means a sharp point at the highest part of something; and the third is a verb that means to provoke or instigate (and can also mean to make someone angry or cause their vanity to be wounded, but that’s a bit old-fashioned).
• I’ll take a quick peek at your numbers.
• He’s reached the peak of his career.
• The invention piqued my curiosity.
BONUS: log in, login – the first is a verb; the second is a noun or adjective.
1. We provide a secure path for users to log in to the software.
2. I’m having trouble with my email login.
3. Please send me the link to the login page.
If your audience includes a lot of marketers, writers or content creators, you might even consider using tips like ‘Did you know…?’ messages in your digital signage playlist. Create quizzes with easy to follow calls to action and add some gamification to get people actively involved and having fun.
English is a constantly evolving language, so some of what’s considered a mistake today may be accepted practice in coming decades. However, you’re trying to engage viewers now, and making sure your digital signage messaging is accurate and understandable will help grab attention, aid retention and increase trust.