This one is for the Legal Secretaries/Admin Staff

How you present yourself is not just about how you dress or how you brush your hair. It is also about how you present yourself in written correspondence. At the risk of sounding like an old person, spelling and grammar are still very important for employers. If your writing goes directly out to clients or customers with incorrect spelling or grammar, like it or not, it is a reflection on you and the organisations. Similarly, if you present work to a supervisor which is badly set out with spelling mistakes, it is frustrating to have to correct it.

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The most common errors are with words known as ‘homonyms’ – words that sound alike but mean different things. Changing one letter in a word can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Knowing which is which is important.


Accept, Except:

Accept is a verb meaning to receive something or acknowledge something. Except is usually a preposition meaning excluding. I will accept all the packages except that one. Except is also a verb meaning to exclude but not used as often as the work exclude – for example: . Please except that item from the list.


Affect, Effect:

Affect is usually a verb meaning to influence.  Effect is usually a noun meaning result. The drug did not affect the disease, and it had several adverse side effects. Effect can also be a verb meaning to bring about. Only the prime minister can effect such a dramatic change. The best way to know the difference is to ask if the word ‘the’ goes in front – that makes it a noun.


Elicit, Illicit:

Elicit is a verb meaning to bring about. Illicit is an adjective meaning unlawful. The lawyer was unable to elicit information from the client about illicit drug use.


Principle, Principal:

Principal is a noun meaning the head of a school or an organisation or a sum of money. Principle is a noun meaning a basic truth or law. The principal taught us many important life principles.


There, Their, They’re:

This is one of the most common errors.

There is an adverb specifying place; it is also a statement. For example:

Adverb: Fiona is standing there doing nothing. Statement: There are two plums left.

Their is a possessive pronoun, used to denote ownership of something

They’re is a contraction of they are. John and his partner finally sorted out their finances, as a result they’re really happy today.


Here is an example of the proper use of all three in one sentence:

If you look over there, you will see that John and Fiona have their new car – they’re so happy with it.


Your, You’re:

Another common problem.

Your is a possessive pronoun; you’re is a contraction of you are. You’re going to be in trouble if you don’t wear your high vis vest.


Licence, License

Licence is a noun, license is a verb. You get a driver’s licence, which means you are licensed to drive a car.


Council, Counsel

This is a tricky one. Council is a noun meaning a stator body. Counsel is usually a verb meaning to give advice. For example: The Council took advise from experts who counseled against the development. In legal circles however Counsel is also a noun, referring to a barrister – we sent a brief to Counsel.


Practice, Practise

This one is easy to remember. Practice is a noun (and ‘ice’ at the end of the word is a noun), but practise is a verb. For example, The practice is one with a rich history. They practise their speeches every day


It is tricky, but with practice (not practise) you will get these right. Are there any that you find confusing that are not on this list?