Taming the Monster
Today, we’re going to look at something very small, but also very important. It’s unseen by many, lurking in the shadows. If left alone, it will mushroom and infiltrate communication channels everywhere. Like a virus, it is contagious. For those who recognize its quiet fury, there is a look of sorrow and shaking of the head. No hazmat suit can protect us, however, a dictionary can.
It’s the simple contraction and its partner in crime—the apostrophe. While it seems innocuous, incorrect usage can ruin credibility and even contribute to loss of customers. At the very least, it’s the pet peeve of millions of people. Relax—it’s easy to fix! By simply taking an extra moment, you rid yourself of the threat of this epidemic.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit dramatic, but I have a story to tell: At one point in my career, I was the primary RFP writer for the company I worked for and handled a number of presentations to prospective accounts. The RFPs were like my children. Whether the responses were simply going into a database or were going to be carefully read by a human, I took the time to make sure they were a reflection of our brand and capabilities, knowing that if we landed the program, this impression was very important.
There was a program a colleague and I were trying to land. He had a strong relationship within the prospect company, and we knew exactly who we were up against. The RFP was done, we presented (twice) and ultimately won the program. We were thrilled that we had beaten a well-known competitor for this program. Our contact there laughed when he told us the final differentiator: the competitor’s RFP writer had used "your" several times in the RFP. That’s great when you are talking about the client, but not great when it should have been the contraction for "you are," aka "you’re." When it came down to it, the decision maker commented that if the company couldn’t get a simple contraction right, how could they be trusted with carrying their brand to the marketplace? That’s something I’ll never forget.
The simplest way to avoid this issue is to not use contractions. However, eliminating them can sound very stiff and overly formal. That said, there are many resources to help you ensure you’re creating the right impression when you are using them. One online resource is grammar-monster.com. There is a simple list of common contractions and what words make them up. Apostrophes can get pretty unwieldy as they’re used for contractions and possessives—and there are traps within both areas.
You also can find websites that will check your grammar for free—however, like spell check, they’re not perfect and will not catch some contractions. It’s better to create a habit of confident contraction usage than having a crutch for your written communication. You may have noticed that there are more than a dozen contractions within this post. Contractions are conversational and part of our everyday correspondence. Embrace them and differentiate yourself from the poor souls who haven’t grasped their power.