The presence or absence of good grammar can make or break a piece of writing. In today’s fast-paced world you don’t get two rolls of the dice to make a good first impression, so your content needs to be polished to perfection.
But before we explore the significance of good grammar, let’s remind ourselves of what grammar actually is.
The word grammar is derived from Greek, meaning ‘art of letters’, and is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as: (the study or use of) the rules about how words change their form and combine with other words to make sentences
Sounds straightforward? Perhaps. But I’m sure that most of us flounder with grammar occasionally – if not on a daily basis. As a copywriting agency, thousands of words pass through our hands every day and without good grammar our jobs would be very frustrating!
To put the importance of good grammar into context in the increasingly digital world that we now find ourselves in, let’s take a look at how written communication has changed in recent times.
The evolution of the written word
Language is constantly changing. The advent of the Internet, smartphones and social media has given a new lease of life to the written word – but this hasn’t come without a cost.
Our instant communication culture, and the widespread use of hashtags, emojis and the like, may make it seem like language is being dumbed down at a frightening pace. Who would have imagined two decades ago that ‘google’ would make it into our dictionaries, or that we’d be messaging our friends about ‘FOMO’?
However, at Write My Site we would argue that things aren’t as bad as they seem. We think that good grammar is still very relevant (perhaps more now than ever), and will continue to be for some time.
Why does good grammar matter?
So, you might ask yourself, if we’re content to smatter our writing with text-speak and choose to “forget” our commas, what place does good grammar have in today’s society?
Whilst it might be acceptable to send your friend a text without any punctuation, this approach is unlikely to go down well in your company communications.
Your customers don’t want to see a website, brochure or blog that’s chock-full of typos or misplaced apostrophes. They need to feel they can trust your brand and see your company as professional. Your written content is the face of your company, so use it don’t lose it!
And remember that using good grammar doesn’t mean you have to change your company’s TOV or become super-formal. You can retain your brand voice and preferred style; it just means your audience will understand you, be clear about your offering and have trust that they’re dealing with a credible organisation.
Common grammatical pitfalls
Now we’ve covered a few of the reasons why good grammar matters, let’s look at some mistakes to avoid in your company communications and your own writing in general:
1) Subject-verb agreement:
This is a stumbling block for many writers. On the face of things, it might look straightforward when the subject is simple. In the case of The dogs were barking, for example, most of us would be unlikely to write The dogs was barking.
However, when the subject is more complex, errors can creep in. In the case of Introduction of contracts and procedures have occurred, for example, this is incorrect as the grammatical subject here is singular ‘introduction’ and not plural. Therefore, the correct version should be Introduction of contracts and procedures has occurred.
Apostrophes are left out or misused on a regular basis, which can make your content look like a dog’s dinner. To ensure your writing looks professional, this is a grammar basic that you need to master!
Apostrophes are used to form possessives (denoting belonging, ownership or association), e.g. our grandmother’s house or the gym’s facilities.
A further use of apostrophes is to denote a missing letter/letters in certain contractions, e.g. let’s, don’t, can’t.
The most important thing about apostrophes and possessives is to put them in the correct place. This can be especially tricky with plural words that don’t end in an ‘s’. If we take the phrase the people’s vote, for example, you may see this incorrectly written as the peoples’ vote, which would mean the vote of the peoples. Another similar word to watch out for is children.
If you have a word that’s plural or already ends in an ‘s’ and you want to indicate possession, place the apostrophe after the ‘s’, e.g. the girls’ rucksacks (the rucksacks belonging to the girls) or James’ newspaper (the newspaper belonging to James). In the case of the latter, James’s could also be used if preferred.
Apostrophes should not be used to form the plural of words. You may have seen this on signs asking you to ‘Buy your apples’ and pears’ here!’ (not to pick on greengrocers as there are many other culprits).
Another common blunder occurs with its versus it’s. To avoid making errors with this, the key is to remember that itsdenotes possession, e.g. the dog was playing with its ball, whereas it’s means it is or it has, e.g. it’s been a great day or it’s raining outside.
3) Active vs passive:
This is a biggie, so take note! It’s also something that all writers should check for – particularly as the Yoast scores and readability of your content will skyrocket when you start paying attention to this.
If you want your content to pack a punch and really speak to your audience, choose the active voice!
Don’t know your active from your passive? Here are some examples:
Active: I posted the letter.
Passive: The letter was posted by me.
Active: The dog bit the boy.
Passive: The boy was bitten by the dog.
A tip for avoiding the passive voice is to watch out for sentences containing an ‘object’, i.e. a person or thing receiving the action of the sentence.
In the examples above, the objects are the letter and the boy. In this scenario, the passive voice can creep in when the object of the sentence comes at the beginning instead of the end (as in the examples).
Much like the apostrophe, the humble comma has a lofty role and its position in a sentence can completely change the meaning.
There are many guidelines to observe concerning the inclusion and positioning of commas (way too many to cover in this article), but an error we see coming up time and again is the comma splice.
A comma splice is the term for linking two independent clauses (parts of a sentence that could stand alone in their own right) with a comma.
It’s snowing today, we’re staying indoors to keep warm. (incorrect)
It’s snowing today. We’re staying indoors to keep warm. (correct)
It’s snowing today, so we’re staying indoors to keep warm. (correct)
A tip for avoiding comma splices is to use a dash, semi-colon or full stop instead – as shown in the above example. Alternatively, you could include a coordinating conjunction, such as ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’.
The future of good grammar
So, now you know a little more about grammar we hope we’ve convinced you of its importance.
Just like evergreen content – which offers long-term value to its readers and isn’t time-sensitive – good grammar will remain relevant to your audience regardless of current trends and events.
Irrespective of the type of business you run, the written word is likely to be one of your main methods of communication. First impressions count and well-written content will go a long way towards gaining the trust of your target audience.
Competition is fierce and you need to maintain an edge over your rivals. Why would you buy from a website that’s full of errors over one that’s slick and professional?
Whilst good grammar isn’t always easy, it’s definitely worth investing in to ensure your company communications achieve the results you are seeking and impress those all-important customers!