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MANAGING THE OFFICE

12 common errors in English you’ll want to avoid

Writing errors reflect poorly on you—and on the medical practice.

Even if English wasn’t your best subject, it’s not too late to brush up on the basics. Here are 12 common errors you’ll want to avoid.

1. You’re/your

You’re is a contraction, short for “you are.”

Your is a possessive pronoun, as in “It’s your birthday.”

Quick check: Can you substitute “you are”? If so, you should use “you’re”; if not, use “your.”

2. It’s/its

It’s is a contraction, short for “it is.”

Its is a possessive pronoun, as in “The tree has lost all of its leaves.”

Quick check: Can you substitute “it is?” If so, you should use “it’s”; if not, use “its.”

3. There/their/they’re

There is an adverb that refers to place or position, as in “over there.”

Their is a possessive pronoun, as in “It’s their house.”

They’re is a contraction, short for “they are.”

Quick check: Can you substitute “they are”? If so, you should use “they’re.”

Does it belong to someone? If so, use “their.”

Can you substitute the word “here”? If so, use “there.”

4. Than/then

Than is a conjunction, used for comparison, as in “Mary is older than Susan.”

Then is an adverb or an adjective with multiple meanings and uses, including “time,” “next in time or order,” and “in addition.” Example one: “I was at home then.” Example two: “We packed the car and then hit the road.” Example three: “When buying a house there is the cost of the house, and then there are property taxes.”

Quick check: Are you comparing two people, places or things? If not, you should most likely use “then.”

5. Stationery/stationary

Stationery is a noun or an adjective that refers to writing supplies or paper, as in “I wrote a letter using my new stationery.”

Stationary is an adjective or adverb that means “not moving,” as in “Secure the beam so that it remains stationary.”

Quick check: Stationery with an “er” refers to paper, which also includes an “er.” Are you referring to paper or other writing supplies? If so, it’s “stationery.” If not, you should most likely use “stationary.”

6. Who’s/whose

Who’s is a contraction, short for “who is.”

Whose is the possessive form of “who” or “which,” as in “Whose birthday is it?”

Quick check: Can you substitute “who is”? If so, use “who’s.”

Does it belong to someone? If so, use “whose.”

7. Accept/except

Accept is a verb with several meanings. It’s most common use is “to accept willingly,” as in “I accept the challenge.”

Except is a preposition that means “not including or other than,” as in “Everyone was ready except Mary.” It is also a conjunction that “forms an exception to what was previously stated,” as in “I don’t exceed the speed limit, except in an emergency.

Quick check: Can you substitute the word “receive”? If so, use “accept.”

Does the word “exception” work as a substitute? If so, use “except.”

8. To/too/two

To is most frequently used as a preposition to “express motion in a particular direction,” as in “walking to the store.”

Too is an adverb that means “excessively,” as in “driving too fast.” Too also means “in addition,” as in “I like ice cream too.”

Two is a number, as in “Two people were in the rowboat.”

Quick check: Do you need to get from one place to another? If so, think in terms of quickness and one “o” and use “to.”

Are you talking about excess? If so, you want the extra “o” and should use “too.” Can you substitute the word “also”? If so, use “too.”

Need a number? It’s “two.”

9. Dessert/desert

Dessert is a noun that means “the sweet course at the end of a meal,” as in “I’ll have chocolate cake for dessert.”

Desert is a noun that means “an arid land,” as in “He was stranded in the desert without water.” Desert is also a verb that means “to abandon,” as in “I didn’t think she would desert me when I needed a friend.”

Quick check: Dessert takes a double “s.” An easy way to remember this is that you always want more dessert. One “s” isn’t appealing—think “arid” and “abandon.”

10. We’re/were/where

We’re is a contraction, short for “we are.”

Were is a form of the verb “to be,” as in “We were eating lunch when she called.”

Where is most frequently an adverb, usually related to place, as in “Where is the nearest gas station?”

Quick check: Can you substitute “we are”? If so, you should use “we’re.”

Is about a place? If so, you should most likely use “where.”

Does it signal action? If so, you should most likely use “were.”

11. Principal/principle

Principal is an adjective that means “first order of importance or main,” as in “the principal reason.” Principal is also a noun that means “the person with the highest authority in an organization,” as in “Donald is principal of the firm.” Principal can also refer to money, as both an adjective and a noun.

Principle is a noun that means “a fundamental truth” or “the basis of something,” as in “It is a principle of the religious doctrine” or “It is the principle upon which the company was founded.”

Quick check: Are you referring to a person? If so, you should use “principal.” Note that “principal” ends in “pal.” It helps to think of the principal as your pal.

Are you using the word as an adjective? If so, then you also want to use “principal.” The only time you should use “principle” is as a noun.

12. Compliment/complement

Compliment is a noun and a verb that always has to do with praise, as in “I paid her a compliment” or “It was nice of her to compliment my new dress.”

Complement is also a noun and a verb, but it means “a thing that completes” or “add to something in a way that enhances or improves it,” as in “The new chair is a perfect complement to the room’s décor” or “The new curtains complement the furniture in the reception area.”

Quick check: Does it have to do with praise? If so, use “compliment.” If not, you should most likely use “complement.” It helps to notice the similarity between “complement” and “complete.”


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