Don't let these common errors brand you as unprofessional.

If Your Writing Don’t Agree, It Don’t Look Good

Don’t let these common errors brand you as unprofessional.

Resume screeners can be very picky: they have that luxury. You want the job, and so do hundreds of other people. These busy professionals develop criteria to “disqualify” some of the many potential employees/business partners. It’s easy to knock out a candidate for lack of correctness (“After all, if s/he has an error in the cover letter, what worse mistakes will be made on the job?”).

Here’s a story to illustrate that point:
A friend of mine provides professional services to irrigate golf courses. During a particularly busy year, he couldn’t keep up with the amount of work he had, so he put one of his jobs out to bid. Only two proposals came in — one for $1.6 million and one for $1.8 million. Much to the surprise of everyone, he chose the $1.8 million dollar bid! Why? He discovered writing errors on the lower-priced submission, and didn’t want to take the risk of working with anyone who was that careless. The lesson here is to make sure your written representation is correct and excellent. It’s a buyer’s market. Have the goods that people can’t pass up!

One of the basic aspects of sentence structure is ensuring proper agreement between the subject and the verb.

  • A singular subject uses a singular verb; a plural subject uses a plural verb.
    Loretta works here. (Singular) / Loretta’s friends work here. (Plural)
  • When parts of a subject are joined by or, or nor, the verb agrees with the nearer part.
    Either Loretta or Jim writes the weekly report.
  • Singular indefinite pronouns use singular verbs. These pronouns include each, either, neither, -body, -one, and –thing.
    The workers are very dedicated. Each does her/his job.

For some indefinite pronouns, imagine adding “single” to reinforce the pronoun’s need for a singular verb, as in: every (single) one, some (single) body, any (single) thing, and no (single) one.

  • Plural indefinite pronouns use plural verbs. These pronouns include several, few, both, and many.
    Several were eager to go further.

And now, a tricky test: “Someone left (her/his or their) laptop in the Board Room.” What would you choose as the correct answer?

It’s easy to make an error with this. Most people are tempted to go with “their” (it sounds nonsexist to say it that way, but it’s grammatically incorrect). “Someone” (literally, “some single one”) is not a “they.” Someone is singular, and always needs to be referred to with other singular words, like “s/he.” A great way to get around this problem is to avoid the pronoun use altogether: “Someone left a laptop in the Board Room.” Of course, the best way to avoid problems is to know what’s correct and to use it correctly!

 

Richard Atkins

Richard Atkins Dr. Richard J. Atkins is the founder of Improving Communications, a New York-based corporate training firm, providing classes for individuals and businesses in Business Writing, Public Speaking, Customer Service, and Leadership Development. For more information, e-mail Dr. Atkins at rich.atkins@improvingcommunications.com.

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