October 12, 2011
Client Impressions: Write Intelligently in Your Corporate Communications — Three Tips for Mastering Problematic GrammarBy Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, Speech Coach and Trainer
Throughout the business community, ambitious individuals who work in highly competitive environments know the impression they give in their business communications often makes the difference between career failure and success.
When you make the following grammar mistakes, you will sound less intelligent than you actually are. Effective communication, both in speaking and writing, makes an important and significant impression. Most likely, your English teacher gave you the following advice. In case you have forgotten, here are three business communication tips to improve the impression you make to your prospects, clients, and senior executives.
Tip #1 — Use Pronouns Properly
How often do you hear people say the following comments?
The owner promoted him and I.
The client took Sally and he to lunch.
That's very important to we commuters.
Pronouns change when they play different roles in a sentence. Note that "you" and "it" stay the same, however you use them.
Used as Subject
Used as Object
For some reason, people who aren't sure which to use can end up overcorrecting. "I" and "he" sound more elegant, so these people come up with sentences like the first three examples above. The most confusion seems to arise when there are two people receiving the action. The simplest technique is to eliminate the one that isn't a pronoun to see if the sentence "sounds right."
Wrong: The owner promoted him and I. ("The owner promoted I")
Right: The owner promoted him and me.
Wrong: The client took Sally and he to lunch. ("The client took he to lunch")
Right: The client took Sally and him to lunch.
Wrong: That's very important to we commuters. ("That's very important to we")
Right: That's very important to us commuters.
Tip #2 — Be Wise with Who and Whom
To know which to use, substitute "he" for "who" (both end with a vowel) and "him" for "whom" (both end with M) while you figure out what is acting on what. For example:
I know he paid him.
I know who paid whom.
Even people who master this trick can get confused when who/whom is used in a question. Simply turn the question around into a statement and follow the above rule:
To who/whom are you speaking?
Statement: You are speaking to he/him.
Who/whom are you going to call?
Statement: You are going to call he/him.
The correct choice is "him," so you would substitute with "whom."
"Whom" almost always follows a preposition, those words that transfer action from one thing to another. Words like to, from, for, in, and out.
Tip #3 — Watch Your Language with Lay and Lie
Unless you're lucky enough to be multi-lingual, English is the main tool you use to transmit your ideas to others. Yet you don't need a Harvard degree to sound intelligent. It's just a matter of mastering a few tricks, aka grammar rules.
Let's consider "to lay" and "to lie." The first verb transmits or transfers its action to something (transitive), while the other doesn't (intransitive). There's also "to lie," meaning to fib, which further muddies the waters.
In school you probably confronted dozens of charts showing how lay, laid, lie and lie work when describing the past, present, future, singular and plural (a process called conjugation). Instead of memorizing charts, here's a four-line verse to remember that will make you a master of these tricky common verbs:
Yesterday, Todd lay in bed.
We laid an icepack on his head.
Today he lies beneath the sod.
We lay a wreath to honor Todd.
When Ken Burns' 1990 documentary, The Civil War, first aired, many viewers commented on the astonishingly literate and grammatically perfect letters written home by soldiers who had no formal schooling beyond the age of ten or twelve. In the nineteenth century, education was a serious and intensive process, and people were expected to continue learning all their lives through reading, conversation, and study.
As a professional, you are constantly working to educate others, sharing your ideas and expertise. One additional gift you can offer your listeners and readers is clear, powerful language.
Hopefully, you found these grammar tips practical, educational, and entertaining. Written and verbal communication should never be boring. Before you send that intelligent-sounding email, letter, or proposal, remember to check it at least once for grammar and spelling errors. Many executives continue to be surprised by obvious mistakes in the corporate communications they receive.
Whether you own a business, report to a boss, or search for a job, it is important to sound intelligent in all your corporate communication. Never underestimate the power of your words. Words and correct grammar give you a competitive edge!
Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE, is Hall of Fame keynote speaker, executive speech coach and sales presentation skills trainer and keynote speaker on sales, effective presentation skills and executive communication skills. She works with companies large and small, and individuals from the C-Suite to the work floor. She builds leaders, transforms sales teams and delights audiences. She is the author or co-author of five books including "Speaker's Edge - Secrets and Strategies for Connecting with Any Audience," and is Past-President of the National Speakers Association. Contact her at www.Fripp.com.