Avoid 3 Copywriting Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid


I've got to get something off my chest. Well, three things, actually.

Grammar mistakes are one of the easiest ways to show you're a careless writer. Of course, no one's perfect - I'm sure I have made a lot of errors over the years. But there are at least three that get stuck in my craw each and every time.

1. Literally vs. Figuratively

On the corner of Division and Ashland on Chicago's northside, there's a billboard above a Washington Mutual Bank. You can find a picture of it above. It drives me crazy everyday.

I'm not going to venture that shoddy grammar is the reason that WaMu went out of business, but it can't help that your bank's ads show your lack of sophistication with the English language. Personally, I only trust my money to someone that can handle high school English.

In our modern parlance, the use of "literally" is almost always incorrect. It's been so flogged and abused that you likely think you are using the correct word. Read the definition. If "monkeys are literally flying out of your butt" or "you literally choked on your words" or "your friend is literally the devil" - it's likely you have bigger problems to worry about.

So, let that be your red flag. If you feel the word coming out of your mouth, consider that you are probably making a mistake.

2. It's vs. Its

At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I'm not sure why this is such a tripping point. Here's the thing: an apostrophe means that something has been taken away. When we say "Danny's gone to the bodega for a slice o' pie," the apostrophes stand in for "Danny has" and "of pie."

The thing that might be confusing is possession. For instance, when I say "Danny's pie," I mean that the pie belongs to Danny, not that "Danny has pie."

But in the case of "it's" and "its," things are even simpler. All you need to know is that if you can substitute "it is" or "it has" then the correct word is "it's" (using the apostrophe = missing letters logic explained above).

If you can't make this substitution, then use "its." This might be confusing. To show possession, you would say "Danny's pie." But in this case, there would be no apostrophe showing possession (its).

If you can replace the word with "it is" or "it has" - use "it's." If not, use "its."

And if you get confused, check Its Not It's.

3. Yours vs. Your's

This problem originates from an errant apostrophe, but it's even easier than it's vs. its.

Normally, when showing possession, you use an apostrophe (i.e. "Danny's pie"). But simply put, this is never the case for the possessive "yours."

There is no such thing as "your's." Never was. Never will be. Erase it from your head.

"Yours" is the correct possessive. eLearnEnglish explains it well.

You could say about the Your's rule: Its as easy as pie, literally. Ha!


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(Hat tip to Copyblogger for the form of this post. Though, admittedly, these annoyance are neither new nor unique.)