Commonly misused business terms

Commonly misused business terms

We’ve often said that if your customers don’t trust you with the little things, they won’t trust you with the big things—like giving you their business.

Proper word choice is one of those “little things.” If you’re positioning yourself as an expert in a field of service, your task will be more difficult if you misspell or misuse words. You don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to talk about fall oil change specials, but if you’re offering a complementary tire rotation instead of a complimentary one, you’ll raise a few eyebrows.

Here are some other commonly misused words:

Login/Log in
Like many of the words on our list, the difference between these two is the difference between a noun and a verb, for example If you’re asking someone to log in to your site or remember their login information. Log in is a verb, while login in a noun.

Complementary/Complimentary
We already touched on this, but here’s the breakdown: When spelled with an “e” complementary refers to something that completes or a whole. “His hat complemented his outfit.” When you use an “I” you are saying someone nice about someone or something, or offering something for free. “What a nice thing to say. For that compliment, I’ll give you a complimentary cup of water.”

When spelled using an “e”, the writer is implying that the object satisfies a lack in something else, or that it’s the “second half” of a pair of items. When spelled using an “i,” however, the writer is implying that the object is free.

Site/Cite/Sight
These three words sound the same but have different meanings. Site is a location, like a web site, site of a building or impact site. Cite is a verb, meaning to reference something, such as citing a popular reference book. Sight, of course, means the ability to see.

Capitol/Capital
This one can get a bit tricky. Capitol is a noun that refers to buildings, for example, the U.S. Capital building in Washington, D.C., or the state capitol building in Lansing, MI. However, it does not refer to the cities, themselves: Lansing is the capital of Michigan, not the capitol. Capital is also used for letters and to refer to financial assets. (As in, building up capital.)

Everyday/Every Day
This is a fairly common mistake for small business owners, even though it’s not technically a business term. Suffice it to say there’s a difference between everyday low prices and low prices every day. As one word, everyday is an adjective that describes common items, like an everyday lunch or everyday haircut. Split it into two words and every becomes an adverb that modifies day, the noun. “His dog likes to go for walks six times a day, every day.”

Principal/Principle
The easiest way to remember this rule to remind yourself that “principle” is a noun that refers to basic laws, rules or beliefs. “I shouldn’t get upset when people cut me off in traffic, but it’s the principle of the thing. There’s no respect left in America.” Principal refers to money and finances or, if you can remember that old elementary school idiom, the head of a school. “The principal is your pal.”

Perspective/prospective
Though both words sound the same, both have completely different meanings. Perspective is a noun that refers to how you look at something. Prospective is an adjective that means “likely to happen or become.” Your prospective customers will bond with you if you see things from their perspective.

Proper word use can go a long way toward reassuring your potential—or prospective—customers. When in doubt, look it up. Do you know of any other commonly misused words? Let us know in the comments!

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