Although today is only November 15, I can already tell you the most common error in people's business writing this year. It is the use of this word:
When people sign up for my writing courses, I ask them, among other things, what kinds of business messages they write. Their responses reveal the error:
I write email, reports, memo's, and presentations.
I write memo's requesting funds for capital purchases.
The plural of memo is memos–not memo's. We should all write memos.
The word memo's can be a correct possessive form. Examples:
I could not understand the memo's intent.
The memo's format was unconventional.
Grammar purists might frown at the possessive form used with an inanimate object, which my two examples directly above use. They would prefer these constructions:
I could not understand the intent of the memo. [OR] I could not understand the writer's intent.
The format of the memo was unconventional.
Despite the preferences of purists, possessive forms with inanimate objects are fine unless the resulting expression is awkward. For example, "the bottom of the barrel" and "the foot of the bed" are common phrases. "The barrel's bottom" and "the bed's foot" would be awkward replacements.
If you are someone who mistakenly uses memo's, set your software to automatically correct it to memos. If everyone does that, I will be able to report a new most common error in 2012.
What is the most common error you have seen in business messages this year?