I found myself nodding in agreement to this “Dear Amy” letter published in Monday’s newspaper. The letter was from someone who reviews job applicant materials, including résumés. The letter writer had received a job application packet that didn’t follow the conventions of good business writing.
“It was atrocious. The grammar and vocabulary were awful, and the format was poor to the point of near-illegibility.”
I was especially disturbed by the part of the letter that stated the job applicant said he had a bachelor’s degree and oral presentation skills.
The letter writer signed the letter “Want to Help” because this (kind) individual was looking for a way to provide suggestions to the applicant for improving his résumé.
One way to make sure your business writing is grammatically correct and that you’re using proper vocabulary is to pay attention to words that are easily confused with similar words with different meanings. Here are a few word pairs and some tricks for remembering them:
Accept/Except: Accept (to agree or to receive) Except (excluding)
Trick: The “ex” in except goes with the “ex” in “exclude or excluding.”
Assure/Ensure/Insure: Assure (give someone confidence) Ensure (to make certain, sure) Insure (to protect against loss)
Trick: Remember “assure” goes with a person. With “insure” think “insurance.”
Can/May: Can (know how, able to, power to) May (possibility or asking/giving permission)
Trick: Remember the expression “can-do” meaning someone has the ability or power to do something.
Principal/Principle: Principal (leading participant or head; the unpaid balance on a loan; or an adjective meaning “primary or main”) Principle (a law, value or rule)
Trick: The “a” in principal should remind you of “A-1” or the number one boss, and also the “a” in principal goes with the “a” in adjective. The word principle is not an adjective.
A lot/Alot: A lot (An adverb meaning “many”) Alot (incorrect form of “a lot”)
Loose/Lose: Loose (An adjective meaning “not tight”) Lose ( A verb that means “to misplace or to be defeated”)
Quite/Quiet/Quit: Quite (An adverb meaning “whole or complete”) Quiet (An adjective meaning “not making noise”) Quit (A verb meaning “to stop or give up”)
Than/Then: Than (A conjunction introducing a second element in a comparison) Then (An adverb meaning “at that time,” “next,” or “after”)
Cite/Site/Sight: Cite (A verb meaning “to quote an example or authority”)
Site (A noun meaning “a particular place”) Sight (A noun describing the function of “seeing”)
Do you have any confusing word pairs to add to this list? If so, please post them here.