While Stephen Fry has a point about grammar nazis being insufferable peons, the fact remains that business communications, especially online ones should be given the focus and the time it deserves.
Note: All of my arguments are for written communications and not verbal ones.
In order to be taken seriously in the business world, it is important to be able to write with some degree of proficiency. To my fellow Millennials, this does mean that net speak and text chat are offside. But you already knew that, or I hope you did… I’m going to pretend that you do and focus in on a few other lesser known examples that can help your business writing.
1) Company Pronouns.
A company is an it. Not a they, them, us, ours, or we, but an It.
If you are talking about specific people or positions within a company, then please feel free to use plural personal pronouns. If however, you are talking about a company as a whole, please use “it” and “its”.
- Incorrect: Apple just announced their new iPhone.
- Correct: Apple just announced its new iPhone.
If your CEO or public relations person is doing a speech, then the use of personal pronouns is allowed for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a speech. Verbal communication is not the same thing as written communication. If everyone wrote how they spoke, everything would become very disjointed. The second reason is that the person speaking is trying to “put a face to the company” and make it seem like a warm place filled with wonderful people instead of the competitive money-driven business it really is.
While I’m at it, lets talk about:
2) Its, It’s and Its’
Its is possessive. It means that something belongs to something else.
- Ex. Apple’s new iPhone is its property.
It’s is a contraction of the words “it” and is”
- Ex. It’s a shame Blackberry can’t keep up with Apple.
Its’ does not exist, at all, for any reason. Do not use it.
- Ex. NO!
3) A Lot vs. Alot
I was going to write about “a lot” but there is a hilarious blog called “Alot is better than you at everything” that does a much better job of it than I ever could. Try not to drink anything when you read it.
4) Staff: Is it plural or singular?
I came across this one the other day while writing an article for Business in Calgary Magazine. The unsatisfying answer? It depends.
- The staff is ready and willing to help you.
- The staff are ready and willing to help you.
What does it depend on? Context. Preference. Intent. Whether you live in Great Britain, Canada or the USA. That’s an unsatisfying answer, I know. In general, I prefer to use the word “staff” as a plural.
Now this last one I got from my good friend Alya Jinah who told me that she runs across this one all the time at work. I was previously (and happily) unaware that this word caused problems. No longer!
- Either myself or Julien will get back to you with a more definitive response as soon as possible.
- They gave me 2 complimentary tickets for myself which I will donate
- Would you be able to order myself a Gluten Free dessert?
- If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact myself or Cheryl
Now when you read these examples, it’s easy to see that the word “myself” has been placed where “me” or “I” should have gone. Why is this? People are over-correcting due to their belief that “me” is wrong and should be avoided at all costs. There is nothing wrong with “me”. It may not sound as fancy, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. People know that there are rules to when you use “I” instead of “me” but they don’t quite recall them, so they use “myself” instead.
- Either Julien or I* will get back to you with a more definitive response as soon as possible.
- They gave me two complimentary tickets which I will donate
- Would you be able to order me a Gluten Free dessert?
- If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me or Cheryl**
*Not Julien or me
**Not Cheryl and I
You should only use the word “myself” when trying to emphasize yourself in a sentence, normally after a previous usage of the word “I”.
- I kept the cheese for myself
- Young people like myself
- Myself, I can’t believe that it happened.
I don’t like the last example, but it is grammatically accurate to represent a widely held opinion that you agree with.
Thank you to Alya Jinah for “myself”. As for Apple? You’re welcome for all of that free advertising.
I hope these examples will be helpful for your daily business communication needs! I know there are plenty of other common grammar mistakes I could have gone through, but is there anything you would specifically like to see that you would find in a business situation? Let me know your thoughts!