When words sound the same, it may be confusing to place them in sentences to convey the correct meaning. However, some errors are too glaring to be overlooked and this blog aims to correct them.

Two years ago, I was at an event at a major venue in Singapore, and there was a large Jumbotron screen that showed some of the pre-event announcements.

Imagine my horror when I saw this sentence appear clear as day on the screen.

Before leaving, please make sure that you do not leave you’re personal items behind.

I wondered whether anyone else noticed the error, but I heard no comments at all.

Several groups of words are often wrongly used in written English as they sound similar.

Some examples of words are there, their, and they’re.

There is an adverb which refers to places, e.g., The shop you need is over there.

We also use there to show the existence of something, e.g., There is a large durian tree outside the hotel.

Their is a possessive determiner which means ‘belonging to them’:

They’re is a shortened form of ‘they are’, e.g., They’re too young to live on their own.

In the case of the Jumbotron fiasco, the confusion was between your and you’re.

Your is a possessive determiner indicating ‘belonging to you’, e.g., This is your pen, not mine.

But you’re is a contracted form of ‘you are’, e.g., She is quite demure, but you’re quite opinionated.

There is a group of popular writers who encourage everyone to ‘write as you speak’. Their influence has been significant. Many writers do their best to engage younger readers and those with short attention spans. This leads to less circumspect language where ungrammatical sentences and those with more vernacular and colloquial terms are used.

The pressure to write materials on short notice, such as posters, flyers and other publicity materials, can lead to hasty writing that is riddled with mistakes. Leaner editorial teams in many sectors may lack experienced editors or proofreaders who can quickly spot and correct such mistakes before publication.

When I was a journalist, colleagues sometimes used incorrect words or punctuation in their copy. But alert copy editors were often able to spot the mistakes before publication, sparing us embarrassment. Some readers have also spotted mistakes in our publications and they have informed the editorial team.

As leaner workforces, especially in the media, public relations, and advertising sectors, will be the norm now, it is important that we shoulder personal responsibility to ensure accurate, readable and contextually-correct copy.

Some steps that we must take while writing:

  1. Be conscious of what words you choose and how you use them. (A cursory check by the writer would have helped to avoid the grammar error on the Jumbotron screen.)
  2. Use shorter sentences. They are more reader-friendly and are less likely to have mistakes compared to longer ones.
  3. Step back after writing, and then read your copy a few minutes later. Your rested mind and eyes will be more alert to the same errors that you may have missed earlier.
  4. Read your copy aloud before submitting it to the editor or proofreader. You will pick out more subtle errors that may have escaped your attention.

Turn these steps into your personal mantra and you are on your way to crafting error-free content.

Article contributed by Arulnathan John

My Medium profile is at https://arulnathan-john.medium.com/

My stories are also on Thrive Global at https://thriveglobal.com/authors/arulnathan-john/

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