English for E-Merchants

For some reason, many people nowadays are leaving school without learning to speak or write correctly in English. This results in several problems for them:

  • Their writing is seen as childish.
  • Their meaning is often not clear.
  • People misunderstand them.
  • They misunderstand what others write.
  • They attract sarcastic comments.
  • Search engines find what they type - not what they want.
  • They don't get the job they want (and wonder why).

Below are some common mistakes which I've seen. If you have any to add or have questions, feel free to write to me. I hope you find this interesting (and amusing in places).

NOTE: I don't pretend that my English is perfect; I make typos, get the spelling, punctuation and even the meaning wrong, occasionally. But my English is way above average and that gives me a head start in written communication. I also take a few seconds to check what I write before posting it. You could be losing out if you don't.


I find it highly insulting that some people can't even be bothered to press the Shift key to make it easier to distinguish the beginning of a sentence, or to use full stops and punctuation correctly. Please, have a little sympathy for the reader and put a tiny bit more effort into your typing.

Here's a common mistake:

Of confused with "off".
(Of is pronounced "OV")

"I just booked a week OF work" is not the same as: "I just booked a week OFF work."
The first implies that you WILL be working for a week; the second implies that you won't.

See what a difference ONE letter makes! People often tell me that "spelling doesn't matter - everyone knows what I mean". Now you see that's NOT TRUE. In some cases there is NO WAY that the reader can guess that WHAT YOU WROTE IS NOT WHAT YOU MEANT!

If you write "I just booked a week of work" they will expect you to be working. If you really meant to write "a week off work" they can't guess that, even though it means the opposite.

There instead of their ("There" refers to a place - example: "over there")
Their means "belonging to them" - example: "I took their shoes from over there".

double negatives - "I'm not going to do it no more" is incorrect. It should be "I'm not going to do it any more" or "I'm not going to do it again".


Also see http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/misspelled.html

ect instead of etc. (abbreviated from the Latin "et cetera" meaning "and so on". Just remember that it's an alien word and therefore begins with E T).

accross (x) instead of across

appologise (x) instead of apologise

grammer (x) instead of grammar

reciept (x) instead of receipt

rediculous (x) instead of ridiculous

recieve (x) instead of receive, recieved (x) instead of received, reciever (x) instead of receiver.
(The general rule is "eye before ee except after cee" - but the word "weird" breaks this rule).

visa-versa (x) instead of vice-versa (Latin)

minatory (x) instead of minority

immobaliser (x) instead of immobiliser.

petetional (x) instead of potential.

Feburary (x) or Febuary (x) instead of February.

buget (x) instead of budget.

seperate (x) instead of separate.


quiet instead of quite ("quiet" means "not loud" and "quite" means "fairly").

caries instead of carries ("caries" refers to decay of teeth or bones)

weather instead of whether. "I don't know whether the weather will improve."

Alternate instead of alternative

Alternative is a noun; here's an example of its usage:-

"He chose to go home by bus; the alternative was to go by train."

Alternate can be a verb (a "doing" word) or an adjective (a "describing" word). The pronunciation is different for each. Here are examples:-

Verb: "The stripes on a pedestrian crossing alternate between black and white." (The stress is on "ate".)

Adjective: "He walked across the road, stepping on alternate stripes to avoid the black ones." (The stress is on "ter".)

Ariel (the name of a washing powder, a motor bike and a type of deer) instead of "aerial" (for TV reception).

Arial (the name of a typeface) instead of "aerial" (for TV reception).

manufactures instead of manufacturers

brought instead of bought ("brought" from "to bring"; "bought" from "to buy").

defected instead of defective ("defected" means "gone to the enemy's side"; "defective" means "faulty").

coursed instead of caused.
"Cause" means "to bring about" or "to make happen".
"Coursed" refers to a liquid. For example "the river coursed its way through the gorge".

loose (=not tight) instead of lose (=can't find).

Effect instead of affect.

To "effect" means to bring about, or to cause, whereas to "affect" means to change or alter something.


The pint of beer affected his driving quite badly.
The new school rules will affect the behaviour of the pupils.

The computer can effect the conversion from dollars to pounds in a microsecond.
His presence effected the success of the contract, much to the relief of his employer.

Note that this applies to the words when used as VERBS.

If you use them as NOUNS they are virtually interchangeable.

The effect of the explosion was very bad.
The affect of the explosion was very bad.


They're instead of their
("their" = "belonging to them". "They're is an abbreviation of "they are").

your's instead of yours (no apostrophe)
your instead of you're (you're is short for "you are")

My son's rattle (=the rattle which belongs to my son)
My sons' rattle (=the rattle which belongs to all my sons)
My sons rattle (=they all make this noise!)

"Buy your carrot's, onion's and potato's here!" (Wrong!)
"Buy your carrots, onions and potatoes here". (Correct)
"Have you any idea's?" (Wrong!)
"Have you any ideas?" (Correct)

its instead of it's ("it is" or "it has" - example: it's gone now)
it's instead of its (belonging to it - example: its head)
"It's going to lose its loose head" (is correct).

"He walked round the garden sticking his nose into Rose's and Lily's".
The apostrophe indicates "possession" so he presumably stuck his nose into something belonging to Rose and to Lily! But this is not what is meant at all. Let's write it again with the plural nouns formed correctly:

"He walked round the garden sticking his nose into roses and lilies".

Now we see that it refers to flowers. The removal of the capital letters shows that it does not refer to girls' names at all! And the plurals are now written correctly. (The plural of any word ending with a "y" is formed by changing the "y" to "ies". Other plurals are formed by adding "s" or "es" - NEVER by adding " 's ").


Split infinitives such as "to at least ensure" instead of "at least to ensure" or "to ensure at least".
The infinitive or root verb is of the form "to ensure", "to go", "to run" and should not be split. But having said that, it often is. For the most part a split infinitive is acceptable in spoken English because the intonation makes the meaning clear ("To boldly go.."). However, you must be more careful in written English if splitting the verb might make the meaning of a sentence less clear.

"I would be loathed to do that ... "
Loathed means hated so what you ought to write is "I would be loath". The word "loath" means unwilling. See how easy it is to write something stupid!

Note that the lone letter "i" is always capital "I" in English.
Writing it as a lower case letter is seen as childish and ignorant by educated people.
The immediate impression is that the writer is a very young child. It also gives the impression of low esteem. (In other words, the writer doesn't think very highly of himself. He is a wimp).
"i write like this becos i am a wimp and i like people to think im 6 years old"


Incorrect- or lack of punctuation can change what you mean!
Here's a typical example of a sentence whose meaning is altered by lack of punctuation:
"can you take this dick to your grandmother?"

One wonders if grandmother really wants a dick!
Of course the meaning is made clear by correct punctuation:

"Can you take this, Dick, to your grandmother?"

So "Dick" is actually the name of a person (and not what you thought!) It is made clear by using a capital letter (to show it's a name) and by separating it with commas as it's not essential to the meaning anyway. (You could write "Can you take this to your grandmother?" and it would still make sense).

Of instead of "have". ("I would have" .. NOT "I would of")
"To have" is a verb. There is no such verb as "to of".

Has instead of "as" (example: "He did it has per instructions" is WRONG).

Here's an example of careless or lazy construction of sentences:

"i dont think i do have to try it."

What he wrote implies that he DOES NOT have to try it. But what he meant was:
"I don't think I do. Have to try it."
So he WILL have to try it. The meaning is the OPPOSITE of what he actually wrote.

See how easy it is to be misunderstood if you are careless!
Missing out a full stop or a letter can change the meaning.

Supposing you got a bill for 2500 instead of 25.00 - would you be happy?
"But I only missed out a full stop - it doesn't matter".

So, if you are one of those people who says "people don't understand me" - now you know why.
Time to do something about it?

Just out of interest, I use "TypeIt4Me" (shareware) by Ricardo Ettore on all of my Macs. It's intended to be an automatic abbreviation expander. For example, I have set it so that if I type the nonsense word "myad" it replaces it with my full address.

But it's more powerful than that. It can also be set to recognise common typing errors - not just spelling mistakes but genuine "typos", too.

For example, I have it set to replace the incorrect spelling of "recieve" with the correct "receive"; "accross" with "across"; "appologise" with "apologise". I also have an annoying habit of typing "ans" instead of "and", because "s" is next to "d" on my worn-out keyboard, so it corrects this automatically, too.

Unfortunately, it can't guess if you type "you" instead of "your" so it doesn't cover every possible mistake but it can be set to catch the majority.

It's a handy, inexpensive utility which you can program as time progresses. Each time you notice a typo you can add the correction. It will even correct complete phrases.

Copyright ©2004 Glodark
Updated November 27, 2005
This file may be downloaded for private and personal use but NO part of it may be published in any form without the prior permission of the author.

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