7 embarrassing mistakes even advanced writers make

How to Avoid 10 Common Grammar Mistakes

Your writing is a measure of your professionalism. Use these tips to ensure yours remains on point.

In the world of business, the quality of your writing is a large part of how others judge you - both individually and institutionally. Avoid these mistakes often committed by even advanced writers:

1. Compliment vs. complement

A "compliment" is a kind word or gesture; flattery ("I considered it a compliment when someone said my dress was classic.").

"Complement" means to match or balance someone or something ("her organizational skills complement his creativity"; "the bedspread complements the color of the walls").

You can remember the difference by noting that the letter "e" appears twice in "complement" - the two "e"s complement each other.

2. Principle vs. principal

The word "principle" means "value" or "moral" ("she has strong principles"). It is only used as a noun.

The word "principal" can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, it refers to the head of an organization, like a school principal. As an adjective, it means "primary" or "main" ("The principal concern is that the merger won't go through.").

You can remember the difference by saying that you always want the principal to be your "pal" (how the end of the word is spelled). And your principal concern is often to make sure the principal stays your pal.

3. None

"None" is always singular.

Thus, "None of us are going" is incorrect. It should be, "None of us is going." Similarly, "None of these candidates have any class" is incorrect. It should be, "None of these candidates has any class."

The easy way to check yourself is to take out everything but "none" in a sentences and test the verb. The verb should always agree with the subject, which is none, and which is always singular.

To remember this, just think, "None, singular sensation..."

4. Capitalizing titles

Titles such as "president" and "prime minister" are only capitalized when they refer to a specific person. If I allude to President Obama, I capitalize the title; if I'm simply referring to the president, I do not.


  • I was surprised when the President of the association interrupted us.
  • It seemed strange that someone at the Director level would do such a thing.


  • The best part of my day was when Director of Operations Jennings showed me how to play Candy Crush on my work machine.
  • I couldn't believe the congresswoman had the audacity to say such a thing to me, but at least Senator Warren backed me up.

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5. Capitalizing advanced degrees

Similarly, you only capitalize an advanced degree when referencing the specific subject. For example, you hold a Master of Arts in Communication, or a Master's in Communication. If you don't include the subject of the degree, you don't capitalize it - it's just, "I have a master's degree."

More examples:

  • I don't think we actually need someone with a bachelor's for this job.
  • She already holds a BA in Electrical Engineering and a Master's in Computer Science, but wants to go back for a doctorate.
  • He'd like to get a master's in the next year or two, depending on whether he wins the lottery.

6. Less vs. fewer

If you're referring to things you can count (quantifiable), you always use "fewer." Thus, "We had dramatically less sales on Etsy this year" is incorrect. It should be, "We had dramatically fewer sales," because you can count the number of sales.

More examples:

  • There were less people at the rally this year than last. (Should be, "fewer people.")
  • We received less survey responses than we'd hoped. (Should be, "fewer responses.")
  • There was less support for the vice president than anticipated. (Correct.)

One way you can remember the difference is with "f"s: If you can feel it with your hands, it's fewer (or if it's finite, it's fewer).

7. Rein vs. reign

"Reins" are things you use to control horses - hence the phrase, "Take the reins!"

"Reign" refers to a person being in power: "Queen Elizabeth reigned for nearly 50 years," or, "I am the reigning queen of Guitar Hero in my family."

Phrases often assumed to take "reign" but that actually take "rein":

  • You need to rein it in.
  • I want her to take the reins more.
  • I'm giving you free rein on this project.
  • Consumers continue to rein back spending.

For a long time, horses were the primary mode of transportation and a major part of everyday life. This history is reflected in the language; the correct word in a phrase about controlling something will almost always be "rein."


In a world dominated by hashtags and emojis, it's easy to forget how rich and varied a language English truly is. Here's celebrating all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of one of the most beautiful languages on earth - may long it reign.

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RELATED: How to keep your diet at the office

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7 embarrassing mistakes even advanced writers make

Find a work mom or dad. 

Everybody is familiar with the work wife: the woman or man in your office who exists to keep you company, gossip, and tell you when your shirt is see-through. The work mom/dad is like that, but mean. Beauty editor Kathleen Hou suggests finding a person who is willing to both straight-talk and side-eye you when you go to grab even the smallest crumb of coffee cake. Your work mom is tasked with yelling sternly, "DON'T EAT THAT OR YOU'LL REGRET IT." They are brutal but they love you, somewhere inside of their dark hearts.

Photo: Getty

Get snacks diverted to another area of the office, far, far away from you. 

When asked how to avoid the inevitable ground zero in the office where all the good snacks get left for free nibbling, one Cut writer explained that at a former job, the snack table was situated close to her desk. How did she handle this constant source of temptation? "I lied and said I'd gotten a request from building management that all snacks had to be kept in the kitchen." You too can become a liar — for your health.

Photo: Getty

Locate other dieters and start a shaming Slack/chat channel. 

Right before the start of the New Year, myself and two of my less-attractive colleagues started a private Slack channel dedicated to our commitments to either "getting skinny" or just not eating like total slobs every day. It's a good place to shame your colleagues into eating better. When one member of the channel explained that she'd broken her strict wellness plan by "ordering a milkshake," we both seized the opportunity to boo, heckle, and yell at her until she wimpered. No pain, no gain.

Photo: Getty

Don't rely on salad to keep you full. 

Susan Rinkus, the Cut's extremely knowledgeable health writer, advises "eating real meals if you want to avoid the dreaded Magnolia cupcake later," meaning not the pathetic work salad but not Chipotle either. Hearty grains and proteins and lots of leafy greens. But if you're craving that Magnolia cupcake (or thousands of them), don't deny yourself the pleasure. "Go ahead and take a piece of whatever is in the kitchen if you want it and then effing enjoy it," Rinkus told me. "Beating yourself up is no good and food guilt/shame can actually lead to weight gain."

Photo: Getty


You need it. Find a way to be constantly working out at your desk. Twitch incessantly. Tap your toes. Play air drums. Run laps around your cubicle. The more energy you expend, the more calories you can consume. Last I checked, typing is not aerobic exercise but burpees in the office kitchen are.

Photo: Getty

Unfollow all snack-based Instagrams. 

Were you salivating at the thought of getting a cake with Drake lyrics on it? Do you often find yourself scrolling mindlessly through SAVEUR's perfectly curated Instagram page? You're not doing yourself any favors, just unfollow them all. Alternately, you can pick up some new follows in the way of health and wellness bloggers, but are you really that hard up for new ways to make your eyes roll out of your head? Stick to the good meme accounts and leave it at that.

Photo: Getty

Quit your job. 

You never really liked that job anyway and this diet thing is a real drag.

Photo: Getty

Run away to Guadalajara. 

You quit your job and stopped dieting, so now you're going to have a lot of free time. May as well get the hell out of this town of sad dreams and broken promises.

Photo: Getty

Never come back. 

You may be in Guadalajara but you never have to worry about nibbling on raw almonds while Cindy goes on about how far she ran this morning ever again. You love it here. You start a new life. One night you wake up in a sweat having dreamed about promising your work mom that you'd never eat Munchkins again. Look around you: You're free. Smile. Life is good. Every day's a cheat day.

Photo: Getty


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