I’m a grammar nerd. I’ll admit it. I think there are nerdier types of nerds out there (some might disagree), but I’ll own the grammar thing. I believe it’s important — of paramount importance even — to good communication. Because without correct grammar, at best, we can’t always get our point across, and at worst, we can mislead an audience or just sound, well, like we don’t have a grasp of our language.
I may be a stickler, but if I get a cover letter or resume from an applicant for any kind of job, and I find a typo or one of the 10 big grammar errors you’ll see below, it all goes into the trash. Those kinds of mistakes tell me that the applicant didn’t put enough time and energy into that resume or cover letter to get it right, so they’re not likely to meet my company’s (and my personal) standards for attention to detail overall.
All of this doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally bend a grammar rule for flair or to make a point. A casual tone (but appropriate to your audience) is actually very appropriate for content like blog posts, and it usually involves the stretching of those grammar rules you learned in school. But there are some big, always-get-them-right rules for writing that you need to understand, because getting them wrong doesn’t make your style seem casual and cool, it screams ERROR, and makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
If you read our posts, you already know that creating remarkable content is really the only way to break through the clutter. And one of our rules for creating remarkable content is to be error free. There are a ton of rules in the English language that pertain to grammar, and many of them are kind of arbitrary. But some you should be paying very close attention to in your writing — subject-verb agreement, consistent tense throughout your piece, using active instead of passive voice — can make or break the quality and style of your content. There are also some very black and white rules that get broken all the time that you need to understand for more than just style reasons. Avoiding these 10 big grammar mistakes will keep your readers’ eyes on your page instead of rolling in disgust because you committed a common grammatical crime.
1. It’s vs. its — “It’s” is a contraction. It’s means “it is” or “it has.” Example: “It’s a beautiful day for a blog post.” “Its” is a possessive pronoun. For instance, “Your blog post could take on a life of its own, if you get all the grammar right.” If you’re not sure which option to use, try saying “it is” out loud in the same spot instead. If the sentence still makes sense, the contraction is the right option.
2. Your vs. you’re — “Your” is a possessive pronoun (like the “its” we discussed above). “You’re” is a contraction of “you” and “are.” “You’re going to be the best writer after you get these grammar rules down and write your next 100 blog posts.”
3. Affect vs. effect — This one is tough for many people. Most times you will use affect as a verb and effect as a noun. Affect means “to influence,” so, “This post really affected me.” Effect means “a result,” as in, “The effect of this post was to make me really analyze how I write.”
4. The dangling participle — It sounds complicated, like one of the subjects that you probably tuned out in the sixth grade when the teacher was going over it, but it’s really not that hard. It just means that part of your sentence isn’t properly associated with a subject. For example, here is a participle that was left dangling: “Tired of reading about grammatical errors, the pages were set on fire.” Here I’ve adjusted: “Tired of reading about grammatical errors, I set the pages on fire.” Make sure you have a clear subject in your sentence, and you will have fewer issues with dangling parts of speech.
5. There, their, they’re — We all learned this in school, and somehow it still confuses people. There = a place. Their = a possessive for more than one person. They’re = a contraction of they + are.
- Put the computer over there.
- Their clothes were a mess.
- They’re going to love this blog post.
6. Could of vs. could have (should of vs. should have, would of vs. would have) — Could’ve, should’ve and would’ve are the contractions you make from could have, should have and would have. Because they sound like “could of” or “should of” or “would of,” people mess this up but don’t ever write it or say it like that. It’s a red flag of duh.
7. Me, myself and I — The choice between me and I is easiest with a test. Take the person off who doesn’t need to be there and say the sentence. “Send the blog post to I after you read it?” Not good. Using “myself” has a couple of simple rules. Use it when you write, “I thought to myself, I really am a great writer,” or “I, myself, can’t stand when people just ramble in a piece of seemingly decent content.”
Where people really screw up is when you throw someone else into the sentence. “I asked him to send the document to Michael and me.” A lot of people would end the sentence with “I” instead of “me.” Read the sentence without the other person’s name in it, and then insert “me or I,” whichever sounds correct. “I asked him to send the document to I,” would sound kind of wonky.
8. Then vs. than — This is simple to remember if you know to use “than” to compare things, and “then” for everything else. “This is a much better blog post than the last one my boss wrote.”
9. Under/Overuse of commas — Commas can be lifesavers. Consider these examples: “Let’s eat Grandma!” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma!” That little comma changed grandma’s world from being the main course at the dinner table to just sitting and enjoying the meal with everyone else. Commas are very important. I see them used excessively but also so sparingly that you’d think they were really expensive. Remember this: Set a phrase apart with a comma if you could remove it from the sentence and still leave the sentence in functioning order. Read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style for a real schooling on how to use the comma properly. (Really, every good writer should read this at some point.)
10. Improper use of the apostrophe — Apostrophes are for two things: To create contractions (should have = should’ve) and to show possession (Susie’s pen). Don’t put apostrophes in places they don’t belong.
There are a lot of helpful resources out there if you’re unsure of how to handle something while you’re writing, and this little list doesn’t solve it. I think everyone should follow some kind of style guide for consistency — we use AP, also used widely by newspapers in the United States. It’s easy to use, and offers an online version that includes a great “Ask the Editor” feature. (“The Chicago Manual of Style,” another good one, has a similar feature.) Other helpful websites to visit if you’re stuck or aren’t sure about proper usage, punctuation, or other rules include: grammar.com, grammarbook.com, and Quick and Dirty Tricks from Grammar Girl.
There is a lot to watch out for when you’re creating content. But staying away from blatant grammatical errors like these 10 biggies will move your content needle closer to remarkable, and will keep your content from being tossed aside with the rest of the mediocrity. Have any tips for good grammar or top-notch writing? Let us know in the comments.
For more tips on creating great, grammatically correct content that will move your business forward, download our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business With Content Marketing.”
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