Why word choice and grammar really do matter

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

When you write to a friend or family member, you might be able to get away with not being correct. After all, if they love you, they’ll figure out what you meant and forgive you for confusing them. Or, they might call and say “What the heck were you trying to say?”

When you write to a client or a would-be client, it’s a different story.grammar book

Your words need to mean what they say – just as you mean what you say when you speak to them in person.

I think the whole point of writing is to communicate. Don't you agree?

When you use the wrong word, communication comes to a halt.

When you're speaking, everyone intuatively knows what you mean when you say words like ad, ate, feat, lie, and billed. If you're communicating in a letter or email and write add, eight, feet, lye, or build instead, your reader will be be instantly confused.

Unfortunately, our language is filled with these homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have entirely different meanings. One list I found on line lists 441 such pairs.

If you want to communicate, it's imporant to spell the word you mean.

Here in the Rain (not the rein or the reign) I see a lot of people using “there” when they mean “their” and “hear” when they mean “here.”

I've also seen sentences similar to: “I ate the last donut because I didn’t want it to go to waist.” What does that mean? If you ate it, it’s definitely going to your waist. Whose waist are you talking about?

How about if you said you like to go walking in the rein? Does that mean anything at all? Nope. Just gibberish.

When you’re writing to people who know the difference, those errors can destroy communication. They force the reader to stop, read it again, and determine what you meant to say.

The flow of thoughts and ideas from you to the reader simply stops.

It has to be torture for those who are learning English as a 2nd or 3rd language. I greatly admire those who have mastered it, especially since so many who speak nothing but English have not.

(And no – I’m not the ultimate expert. I often have questions, so I consult Grammar Girl to see if I’m getting things right.)

Misspellings that don't even sound alike...

If the writer would take time to read aloud what they wrote, they probably wouldn't happen.

For instance, there is a big difference between advice (a noun, whose ending is prounced "ice") and advise (a verb, whose ending is pronounced "ize"). When you use the wrong one, some of your readers are going to think "Ouch!"

Mistakes like those can make a reader stop right there - and then never get back to reading the rest of the message.

If your words don’t make sense to your reader, what is the purpose of writing them?

Then there are the grammar errors.

Last week I attended a property assessment dispute hearing. The man ahead of me was explaining his situation and kept using “Myself and my wife” as the subject of his sentences. Once in a while he got a little more polite and said “My wife and myself.” I had to grit my teeth to keep from correcting him. And he said it a lot.

I’m glad it didn’t matter that I don’t know what came after that, because my brain stopped right there… just as some of your readers’ minds will stop if you make a similar mistake.

To be fair: I’m sure some people incorrectly use the word “myself” because some teacher somewhere along the line told them not to say “I.” The trouble is, sometimes “I” is the proper word to use. "Myself" is only proper as a reflexive pronoun - when you're referring back to yourself.

Examples: "I went to the movies by myself", or "Speaking for myself..."

The bottom line: If you aren’t sure about spelling or word usage, get help from someone who is sure.

Hiring someone to proofread and correct your work is a lot less expensive than losing out on a listing because you chased away your prospect by using the wrong words.

Image courtesy of stuart miles at freedigitalphotos.net

Comments (39)

Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Jill Sackler - I agree. No one wants to be corrected. Since that is the case, I have a hard time doing it even when someone asks me to proofread their work.

Richie Alan Naggar - So true. It's up to us to get our point across - not up to anyone else to decipher what we meant.

 

Jul 15, 2018 12:13 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Lynn B. Friedman - I love that, and it's oh so true! There's a book somewhere here on my shelves entitled Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It is, of course, all about the lowly comma.

Some time ago I wrote a post about a situation where an employer was required to pay back overtime to several employees for a time period of about 2 years, all because of one simple comma (or lack of it - I forget) in the employment agreement. That comma cost many thousands of dollars.

It's best to read what you wrote, pausing for each comma and not pausing when it's not there. I see overuse more than anything.

Jul 15, 2018 12:19 PM
Lynn B. Friedman CRS Atlanta, GA 404-939-2727

Marte Cliff 
I admit I am more of the New Yorker Magazine school of commas - use a lot - than Univ. Chicago or the NYT style. Must confess that I keep my old copy of Strunk & White nearby ...  Lynn


PS  Yes, that is the same E.B. White who wrote Charlotte's Web.

Jul 15, 2018 12:34 PM
Candice A. Donofrio
Next Wave RE Investments LLC Bullhead City AZ Commercial RE Broker - Fort Mohave, AZ
928-201-4BHC (4242) call/text

This reminds me of something that Saul Klein and John Reilly taught in the early ePro classes. Things can be so easily miscommunicated.
Example: someone wrote John asking him if he minded them doing something (I don't recall exactly what); John hastily replied 'don't bother me' using a bit of slang to convey that he did not have a problem with what was being proposed. The recipient took it as a warning to not bother him! You can easily see why.

Jul 15, 2018 01:20 PM
Mott Marvin Kornicki

Don't bother me could go both ways - it's all about where the emphasis is.

Jul 15, 2018 03:33 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Yes, Candice A. Donofrio - I sure can see why. That's how it sounds.

Email is dangerous, because we can write something with a joking attitude, a smile, and a friendly tone of voice in our minds, but the reader can't see or hear any of that.  They can read it as just the opposite.

Be careful with your words!

Jul 15, 2018 02:46 PM
Mott Marvin Kornicki
Waterway Realtors® • Notary Public & Apostille - Sunny Isles, FL
Miami Notary & Apostille 786-229-7999

Reminds me of this Cambridge University Study Marte Cliff - the written word should be succinct, properly spelled and used in the right context!

 

 

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Jul 15, 2018 02:50 PM
Candice A. Donofrio
Hey this looks like some of the contracts that cross my desk.
Jul 15, 2018 02:58 PM
Aida Pinto

I wass abel too reed evry leter U rote...lol!  Just kidding! 

Jul 17, 2018 08:51 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Mott Marvin Kornicki - I have a feeling that one or two words like that would probably not be noticed as much as the misuse of the word "their."

Jul 15, 2018 03:03 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Word choice and grammar definitely do matter! I even see these types of errors in the newspaper sometimes.

Jul 16, 2018 05:09 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Marte Cliff

I'm so glad to see this post featured! You are so correct! I've been reading your post for years and because of you try harder to proof read anything I write. When you make grammatical errors it reflects poorly on you. It takes a little more time but well worth it. Thank you for all your posts on helping us all communicate better!

Jul 16, 2018 05:51 AM
Sharon Miller
RE/MAX Platinum - Crane Hill, AL

Marte,

Not to add confusion........proof read everything you write as the "spell check" feature on your phone, laptop, tablet, etc., will often insert alternative spelling's into one's writing....... 

Jul 16, 2018 06:35 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Kat Palmiotti - Yes, even in the newspaper. Our local weekly newspaper is always filled with errors. Sometimes you have to read a sentence 2 or 3 times to "get it." I even wrote to the editor once to remind her that it isn't "should of" or "could of."

One of the worst offenses was a letter to the editor from a 4th grade teacher. She said "When myself and my friends..."

Jul 16, 2018 09:28 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks Dorie Dillard - it IS definitely worth taking the time to proofread. Small errors can slip in so easily...

Sharon Miller - Yes, spell check can throw you a curve ball, and voice recognition can garble your message. Re-read before you send it out to the world.

Jul 16, 2018 09:31 AM
Kevin Mackessy
Blue Olive Properties, LLC - Highlands Ranch, CO
Dedicated. Qualified. Local.

All we have are our words and honest conversations.  Best to speak as precisely as possible.  

Jul 16, 2018 04:02 PM
Anonymous
Zippy Larson

Oh Marte, you have really rung my bell!

Here is a column on my bulletin board from 10-2-16 by Marilyn vos Savant:
She writes:
"I spent seemingly endless hours diagramming complex sentences in grade school, and I'll always be grateful for the experience.

"You need to learn every rule of grammar because this lays the foundation for high quality adult communication. And I don't mean pretentious speech. I mean the ability to express yourself clearly and well. This is much harder than it sounds.

"Less-than-excellent grammar dooms one to a life of being misunderstood. How many times have you said, "No, I meant..."?
"(And how often have you listened to a person telling you about something for a couple of minutes before you finally figured out what he or she was talking about?) Misplacing even one pronoun can totally confuse a listener. Worse, you usually don't realize this is happening. Your listeners just get it wrong."

Jul 16, 2018 06:25 PM
#32
Kasey & John Boles
Jon Gosche Real Estate, LLC - BoiseMeridianRealEstate.com - Boise, ID
Boise & Meridian, ID Ada/Canyon/Gem/Boise Counties

Amen and amen! I'm going to re-blog this at some point. -Kasey

Jul 16, 2018 07:12 PM
Jimmy Williams
Keller Williams Elite Partners IV - Mount Dora, FL
Lake and Western Orange County Real Estate Expert!

The same can be said about text messages. I get so upset when I don’t catch spell check changes to my text messages. Most of the time the entire meaning of the message is changed.

Jul 16, 2018 07:52 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Kevin Mackessy - I agree. Misunderstandings can cause a world of trouble.

Thanks Kasey & John Boles - I appreciate that!

Jimmy Williams (352) 874-2354 - I'm sorry text messaging was ever invented. Those who use it exclusively will forget all about grammar, spelling, and correct word usage. And yes, I agree - changing just one word can change the whole meaning of a message.

Jul 16, 2018 09:19 PM
Aida Pinto
Independent Real Estate Broker - Los Angeles, CA
Real Estate Broker (562) 884-6196

I'm not the best or worst when it comes to writing but I do try very hard to be better everyday.  Good grammar/correct punctuation, I agree, are very important but with so many details to handle when you are trying to close a transaction--I don't always have time to proof everything I write and I certainly don't have time to correct others.   So, I've learned to do my best to understand what the others are trying to say--if I'm confused, I ask for clarification.  It's sad that we are loosing our written language--it's as if we're going back in time.....where only a few privileged knew how to read and write. 

Jul 17, 2018 09:13 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Aida Pinto - All any of us can do is try - whether it's writing or understanding what someone else has written. Asking for clarification is always wise.

I hadn't thought of it in just that way, but you're right - we could be going back to a time when only a few privieged know how to read and write.

Grammar and spelling aside, I was shocked to learn that public schools have stopped teaching cursive. If any of today's students want to become historians, how on earth will they read the old hand-written documents?

Jul 17, 2018 09:52 AM
Anna Banana Kruchten Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate - Phoenix, AZ
602-380-4886

Marte I'm sure my writings are full of wrong stuff but I'm just not going to worry myself crazy about it. I've got you to write all the really important stuff !!

Jul 18, 2018 12:12 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS 602-380-4886 I don't believe I've ever seen any "Stop signs" in your posts.

Jul 18, 2018 03:52 PM