Key Grammar Tips for Writing Professional Emails

Was English your worst subject in high school? That’s unfortunate. Unlike trigonometry, you need those writing skills that may have eluded you in your younger days. Who doesn’t write an email or text every day of their lives?

To help, we’ve collected some common grammar errors below. Review them and then return to them before you push send on your next important email. They could make a difference whether or not you receive a reply

  • Capitalize letters that are supposed to be capitalized and nothing else.

That means you capitalize the first letter in a sentence and proper pronouns, such as names of people, cities, etc. Don’t capitalize just because a noun feels important to you personally. The sales team shouldn’t be the Sales Team.

  • Put a period at the end of every sentence.

We blame texting for our current casual relationship with punctuation, but in a professional email, you need a period to indicate a sentence’s end. And use exclamation points sparingly. They can make you sound surprised! Or overeager! Or not a good judge of when to use exclamation points!

  • Use apostrophes appropriately.

Apstrophes can signify possession or the omission of a letter in a conjunction.

Example:    Let’s see Abe’s show.

Here, we used an apostrophe in place of the u and space in let us to form a conjunction. However, Abe’s is a possessive noun–Abe is starring in a show, and so, we describe the show as belonging to him.

Important caveat (and common mistake): Not all nouns ending in s get an apostrophe. 

Example:    All parents need to pick up their children from school.

You wouldn’t write parents’ because this noun is plural not possessive.

  • Look for omitted words.

When we intend to include a particular word in a sentence, sometimes we see it when it’s not there. Don’t rely on your software’s grammar check to catch these because eventually, grammar check will fail you. If you’re able, step away from a message after drafting it. It’s far easier to spot omitted words with a fresh pair of eyes. Even better, get a careful reader to review your message before hitting send.

  • Double-check commonly misspelled words every single time. Such as:

There, their, they’re

As a reminder, they’re is a conjunction that’s short for they are. Their is a possessive pronoun that demonstrates ownership. There is a direction.

Example:     They’re going to double-check their spelling before publishing the pamphlet. Last year’s pamphlet is over there.

Your, you’re

Your is possessive. You’re is a conjunction that’s short for you are.

Example: You’re going to retrieve your bicycle, right?

It’s, its

This one is tricky because it’s an exception to the rule. Its is possessive but doesn’t take an apostrophe like possessives normally do, probably to avoid confusion with the conjunction it’s, meaning it is.

Example:     It’s the most wonderful time of the year. 
Our high school changed its name.

Everyday, every day

Every day means every single day, while everyday refers to a common occurrence.

The mailman comes every day. This is my everyday outfit.

Lose, loose

Lose is a verb and loose is typically an adjective.

Don’t lose your loose change.

Lie, lay

Lie and lay are both verbs that can mean to recline or put something down. The key difference is lay has a direct object, while lie doesn’t.

Example:     If I lie down, I fall asleep.
Lay the picnic blanket under the tree.

Here, lay references the direct object, a picnic blanket, so use lay instead of lie, while the example with lie in it has no object.

Then, than

Then refers to time, while than indicates a comparison.

Example:     Should we leave at 3:00 rather than 4:00?
We’ll pick you up at 5:00 and then go to dinner.

Your Assignment

Now review this article’s first couple paragraphs to see just how many of these grammar rules came into play. We didn’t include them on purpose–they’re simply a natural part of everyday (ahem) language. So be on alert and ready to review these grammar gremlins the next time you write an important email!