Confusing your commas from your colons? Mixing up your “who’s” and “whose”? Getting in a tizz over “it’s” and “its”? You might feel you can spot a “there” from a “their” from a “they’re”, but how about the difference between “affect” and “effect”, “practice” and “practise”, or “bare” and “bear”? You want your marketing content to stand out, and to do so for the right reasons.
The ins and outs of correct grammar, spelling and vocabulary can get the better of anyone – even us pros. And, while producing a good piece of writing requires more than just knowing a few technical points (original, engaging content marketing must take into account, style, structure, themes – not to mention some sophisticated SEO strategy and research), that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the value of getting things right, and even testing ourselves once in a while….
So put your knowledge to the test and see how you fair on these classic areas of tricky language with a quiz devised by one of our very own (self-proclaimed) experts.
Can you beat the TrafficSource editor?
1. It’s v its
A classic area of confusion, and one of the most common mistakes you’ll spot in emails, memos, blogs and docs. One of the following sentences is wrong – can you spot which one?
a) It’s been a long time since I did an English test.
b) Whether it’s useful or not is another matter entirely.
c) On a positive note, even it’s most difficult questions can be guessed.
d) And it’s only five questions long.
Here, it’s all about that one tiny apostrophe, which signifies either an abbreviated “is” or “has”. Where there’s no apostrophe, it means that the “its” is possessive. For example: The dog’s thirsty and its water bowl is empty.
2. Semi-colons v colons
The bane of even the most committed grammarians, semi-colons and colons are notoriously troublesome. Can you identify the one sentence that wouldn’t be better with a semi-colon/colon swap?
a) The difference between “less” and “fewer” is a question of countable and uncountable nouns: less milk and honey; fewer knives and forks.
b) SEO services are more important than ever to ecommerce: over 90% of online interactions begin with a search engine.
c) There are three good spelling rules that everyone should know; I before E, except after C; add an E to a word that ends in a vowel and consonant to make that vowel sound like it does in the alphabet; and “all” at the start and end of words is “al”.
d) Don’t over optimise your blogs and articles; update your website regularly with original content.
Them darned semi-colons may confound and bemuse, but they do have their uses: they can separate items in a list, and they can become the link between sentences that are closely related. Meanwhile, colons can be used to introduce lists, and they can be the pause before you elaborate on an idea.
3. Effect v affect
They might look and sound the same (more or less), and often get mixed up, but these two partners in crime have very different purposes in life. Which two of the following sentences got it right?
a) A sophisticated SEO strategy could have a powerful affect on your business.
b) Our backlink management team analyse 97 different link metrics that could be effecting your website’s performance.
c) Ghost spam can affect your Google Analytics data without you ever realising.
d) Online marketing is complex work, but that time and expertise can effect dramatic results.
The big difference between these two is that “effect” is normally a noun (special effects) and “affect” is a verb (this weather is affecting us all). Note that when “effect” is used as a verb, it means to bring about a change.
4. That v which
What distinguishes them is subtle – especially in speech – but if you want your written content to shine, you’ll need to understand when to use “that” and when to use “which”. Can you spot the one error in the ever-so-helpful explanation below?
a) It’s easy to confuse “that” and “which”, which are used to connect ideas.
b) “That” can be changed for “which”, and “which” for “that”, but not always, that is where the problems start.
c) The “which” which can become a “that” is for a defining relative clause.
d) And the “which” which can’t isn’t.
These kinds of “that” and “which” are relative pronouns – highly technical grammar, but the short version is that if it follows a comma, we should use “which”, and if it doesn’t follow a comma, we can use either one.
5. Who v whom
We can all get unstuck with “who” and “whom” – especially if we’re trying to sound formal. Which of the following handy questions doesn’t cut the mustard?
a) Who do you want your social media posts to engage with?
b) Who is the ideal visitor to your website?
c) Whom are your main competitors?
d) From whom do you receive original, engaging content?
The important points to remember here are that “whom” is more formal and always the object of a phrase; and that “who” is only not possible when there is a preposition first, for example: To whom it may concern.
- Sentence c) is the wrong one because “it’s” shouldn’t contain an apostrophe.
- a) should have a colon in place of its first semi-colon.
- Sentences c) and d) are correct; a) and b) not so much.
- b) contains the error – well done if you spotted it.
- If you chose c), you chose wisely.
If you just got 5/5, nice work! You know your adverbs from your adverbials, your ambigrams from your palindromes, and you just beat our editor! Remember, though, it’s not all about brackets and braces – we want your content to positively sparkle all the while showing clarity and consistency.
If you’d like more information on our content marketing and SEO services, contact TrafficSource here.