Nothing is more important in written communications than knowing how to write properly. When you rely on the written word as a primary form of marketing or communication, you can’t go about butchering the language if you expect to leverage it in any sort of meaningful way. It doesn’t do much for people’s impressions of you or your business, but there are some big ones that can be changed quickly. If you can remember these simple things, your writing will make a dramatic improvement right away!
Before we dive in, let’s be perfectly honest here. I’m not perfect, nor is my English. I know I make mistakes. 🙂 While I still can’t figure out what the heck a “dangling participle” is, hopefully I’m able to help you with some glaring obvious ones that you’d be surprised how many people miss. I’ve put together 4 big ones that are the major offenses, and added 10 extras at the end that you may already know about. Which ones are you guilty of?
There’s a sign I drive by on my way to my mother’s house that says: “CAR’S FOR SALE.” I want to pull over, bust out my spray can (if I had one), and paint over the apostrophe. Guess where I didn’t buy my car. 😉
Best/Proper Use: As a possessive
Example: Bill’s cars were covered in snow.
Common Improper Use: As a pluralization
Example: Bills car’s were covered in snow.
When we speak, we have (hopefully) naturally occurring pauses where we stop for emphasis or to list things. This is a little tougher to fix, since the rules for its use are a bit more complex. Briefly, this is when to use them:
In lists, separation of clauses, certain adverbs, parenthetical phrases, between adjectives and before quotes. There are more, but the rules get a little granular. More on the subject can be learned here, but here are the easiest basics to learn in 5 seconds:
Best/Proper Use: to indicate a list, or where you would naturally pause to indicate a separation of thought
Example: While I was there, I ran into my friend.
Common Improper Use: not used at all
Example: While I was there I ran into my friend.
3. Subject-Verb Agreement
In the present tense, subjects and verbs must agree in number. That is, a singular subject requires a singular form of the verb, and a plural subject requires a plural form of the verb.
The simplest way to remember this one is to think about the subject of the sentence and focus on that. Is the subject referring to more than one of itself? Be sure not to confuse your adjectives for subjects. More on the subject can be learned here, but here are the easiest basics to learn in 5 seconds:
Best/Proper Use: subject/verb will agree in number
Example: These flowers are beautiful.
Common Improper Use: disagreement
Example: These flowers is beautiful.
4. Tense Agreement
You can confuse your reader if you don’t match your tenses. I am a constant guilty one here when I write in the “stream of consciousness” style, but I always have to go back and edit it. Be your own self-editor and you’ll do yourself a huge favor.
Best and simplest way to think about it: the past must match the past, the present must match the present, and the future must match the future. More on the subject can be learned here, but here are the easiest basics to learn in 5 seconds:
Best/Proper Use: matching
Example: John came over today and just jumped in the lake!
Common Improper Use: mixing
Example: John came over today and just jumps in the lake!
Other Offensive Offenses
- Ellipses. No period after an ellipse…like this. You need to state things… like this. Notice the space? Spaces are good.
- Exclamation Points. Overuse of exclamation points!!!!!!!!! I’m guilty of this one too, but hopefully in time I’ll recover and start to use just one!
- Semi-Colons. People don’t know what to do with semi-colons; folks just don’t want to use them. When you’re combining separate thoughts that could otherwise be two sentences, you can use a semi-colon.
- Redundancy. PIN Number. HIV Virus. VIN Number. Et al. I ask you – what does the N in PIN stand for? Number. So, essentially, you’re saying Personal Identification Number Number. Duh. Cut it out! 😉
- Don’t vs. Doesn’t. People don’t want to write incorrectly. VERSUS People doesn’t want to write incorrectly. *** He don’t love me anymore. VERSUS He doesn’t love me anymore. Really simple: Plural subject = don’t. Singular subject = doesn’t.
- Orientated? The root word is orient. So where does this come from? The root word is not orientate. Despite this, DID YOU KNOW, this was mis/overused so much that Webster added it to the dictionary? Argh!
- Have vs. Of. I should of done that. <– That just pisses me off. It is properly stated as: I should have done that.
- Spell Check. If you’re proudly telling the world on Facebook that you’re “pregnate,” congratulations, but please know that it’s “pregnant.”
- Double negatives. I don’t never want to hear about people doing this. When you use a double negative, you’re cancelling both of them out so by the sample gaffe, I’ve actually stated that I want to hear about people doing this. So pick one: I don’t ever want to hear about people doing this. *or* I never want to hear about people doing this.
- It’s vs. its. The only time you use that pesky little apostrophe is when you’re forming the contraction, and contrary to the rule, NOT the possessive.
Imagine how much fun I have reading younger people’s text messages and garbled Facebook posts.