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.
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