Commonly Misused Words and Other Grammatical Mistakes to Avoid

Proofreading and reputational impacts

Let’s make time for proofreading.  When I train assistants on business writing, I remind people that our communications have the power to build or diminish reputations – our own, those of our colleagues, and those of our employers. Here, with thanks to readers who participated in my July 2022 Weekend Poll, are tips on some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Beings (“who”) and objects (“that”)

Readers correctly noted misuse of the word “that” in reference to beings. It’s appropriate to write, “… person/people who …” or “those who …” rather than “… person/people that…” or “those that“. The use of the word “that” implies reference to an object rather than a being.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda (and more)

Some uses the terms should of, could of and would of rather than the appropriate terms, could have, should have and would have.

Familiarity or formality

Write with the appropriate level of formality. If in doubt, have a look at resources such as Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.

Numerical references

When referencing a number lower than 10, spell the number within a sentence. Try to phrase sentences so they don’t begin with numbers. If this is awkward or unavoidable, spell out the number or percentage you insert at the beginning of a sentence.

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Both misuse and the absence of apostrophes as problematic, and I think many could use a bit of guidance with this.  If in doubt, turn to online resources or other forms of training.


Be sure to write in the appropriate tense, be it past, present or future. When I deliver training on minutes, I remind people to write minutes in the past tense.


A homophone is one of two or more words that sound similar yet have different meanings and/or spellings. Misuse of a homophone may stem from our own vocabulary, from the use of AI/dictating information, and through use of autocorrect functions.

I’ve created a page to help recognise homophones, and whether you may using a word inappropriately. Click here for this handy resource!

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