It may seem like a nuisance and even unnecessary at times, but one single punctuation error can result in a message not only being misinterpreted, but taking on a completely unrelated and ambiguous theme, as clearly demonstrated below;
On a more serious note, fundamental punctuation errors can have serious consequences for a business, as content may not only be ambiguous, but also untidy and unappealing to the reader. Like many things in life, the rules and schools of thought around grammar and punctuation differ from one person to the next, and can often result in contentious debate.
Although I am responsible for content development for all of NGAGE’s clients, I will be the first to admit that grammar and punctuation is sometimes daunting and confusing, and the online Oxford Dictionary provides user-friendly and insightful guidance when you start second-guessing yourself.
With that in mind, I have decided to highlight some of the most common grammatical and punctuation errors that I typically encounter in the industrial sphere of corporate communication, which still tends to be heavily product or service oriented, with less focus placed on grammar.
One of the most common errors made in corporate communication is to insert an apostrophe (‘) to indicate the plural form of a word that does not end in ‘s’. Example: Company X stocks many types of machine’s. This is incorrect, as it implies the possessive form of machine (something belongs to the machine). Correct use of the apostrophe is: The machine’s core components are….
Its or it’s?
To make matters more confusing, apostrophes are not only used to indicate possession, but also to indicate omission when two words become one, or when one word is shortened, for example;
It’s time for the company to host its staff party.
In this sentence, the apostrophe joins the words ‘it’ and ‘is’ together, while the lack of apostrophe in the word ‘its’ indicates possession.
In the case of shortening a word, the apostrophe is inserted in place of the deleted text. Example: 1990 becomes ’90. It is important to bear in mind that if you wish to highlight a certain period of time that no apostrophe is used. Example: The 1990s NOT1990’s.
HOMOPHONES (words that sound the same, are almost spelled the same, but have a different meaning)
Stationary or stationery?
Stationary: Not moving (hint; think of the ‘a’ – it is the middle letter for car, which can be stationary)
Stationery: Office supplies (hint, think of the ‘e’ – it is the middle letter for pen, which is stationery)
Compliment or complement?
Compliment: Refers to a flattering remark. Example: Her new haircut received compliments. Complement: Implies a value-add. Example: Complementary after-sales service.
Dependant or dependent?
Dependant: Relies upon. Example: A medical aid dependant.
Dependent: Influenced by. Example: The staff function is weather dependent.
Lead or led?
Lead: When pronounced as ‘leed’, it implies guidance. Example: The foreman will lead the site team.
When ‘lead’ is pronounced as ‘led’, it refers to the metallic compound.
Led: The past tense of ‘lead’ (pronounced as ‘leed’). Example: The foreman led the site team.
*Enquiry or inquiry?
Enquiry: To make a query or ask a question. Example: Fill out an online enquiry form.
Inquiry: Involves more formality and implies an authoritative investigation. Example: The judge ordered an inquiry into the worker’s death.
*Program or programme?
Program: Computer and technology related. Example: A new computer program was installed. Programme: Refers to an agenda or itinerary. Example: The event programme looks interesting.
*The last two are classic examples of where British and American English differ. In American English, ‘inquiry’ and ‘program’ are used as the only spelling for the respective words. The abovementioned rules only apply to British origin English, which is used as standard in South Africa.
With the onset of social media, we do find more overlaps in American and British English. I personally believe in using British origin English, as it is recognised as the standard locally. It is also important to remain consistent, by not mixing the two together. Which brings us to ‘z’…
Unless it appears at the beginning of a word, ‘z’ is almost always unnecessary in South African communication. Words like ‘optimize’ and ‘utilize’ should be spelled with an ‘s’. There are, of course, always exceptions to the rules, such as; hazard, haze, ozone, etc.
Many people are unaware that MS Word’s default language setting is English (United States). So even after running a spell check, you may still have spelling errors on your document that you are unaware of. Setting MS Word on English (South Africa) will highlight any errors.
As I mentioned previously, the rules of English grammar can be contentious, and the abovementioned scenarios have been put together to act merely as a guideline, as styles and preferences vary from one writer to the next, and we certainly do not agree on everything!
As the Agency for Industry, NGAGE’s content development team consists of qualified and experienced journalists that work closely with clients to ensure that they are able to clearly and effectively convey their corporate message to a specified target market within the burgeoning African industrial sector.