Grammar and proper sentence construction are tools of the trade for writers and editors. But it’s shocking how often we fail to follow the basic rules – and how often we pretend they’re not important anymore.
I’m no schoolmarm looking to chastise someone for breaking an outdated grammar rule. And I’m no scholar who can talk all day about sentence structure.
But we have to keep our tools sharp. Otherwise, we risk miscommunicating, offending or losing business. (Would you respond to a marketer’s invitation to have Tea for To?)
With a craftsman’s pride, even in today’s type-it-with-our-thumbs approach, you can auto-correct yourself with these easy-to-use tools.
- Never write or say something like this: “her and I.”
Auto-correct: If you can’t remember the difference, then just try the sentence with only one – for instance, “her.” Does it sound right to say “Her went to the movies” or does it sound right to say “She went to the movies?” What about “Me went to the movies” or “I went to the movies.” There you go.
Or… imagine a kid on the playground saying, “Pick I! Pick I!” You can’t imagine that? Me can’t, either.
- Never let anyone think you don’t know “you’re” from “your.”
Auto-correct: Remember that the apostrophe replaces a letter, in this case the “a,” so try your sentence with the “a” back in it. Would you write “May I borrow you are pen?” Of course not. This should help with the dreaded “its” and “it’s” mix-ups, as well.
- Never swap an adverb for an adjective.
Auto-correct. “Have a good night, Mother – sleep well.”
- Never write or say “each and every.” Or “12 midnight.” Or “I, myself.”
Auto-correct: Just don’t.
- Avoid euphemisms for unpleasantness.
Auto-correct: It’s not disrespectful to write that someone “died” instead of “passed away.” Pretend you’re a newspaper obituary writer. Calm, detached.
- Avoid “tragedy” and other words over-used to the point of meaninglessness.
Auto-correct: Are you describing “Macbeth” or another of Shakespeare’s dramas? No? Then you’re not talking about a tragedy – even if it’s something really, really sad.
- Watch out for misplaced modifiers.
Auto-correct: If you’ve begun a sentence with a dependent clause, see how it reads with the clause at the end of the sentence. For instance, this is wrong: “Watching me walk in the restaurant, I said hello to the woman.” You probably mean this: “I said hello to the woman watching me walk in the restaurant.”
- Watch out for the pointless apostrophe.
Auto-correct: If you added an “s” to make a noun plural, DO NOT ADD AN APOSTROPHE. That’s it. Just don’t.
- Watch out for over-capitalization.
Auto-correct: You might like to be president someday, just like President Obama. Your landlord is not your Landlord. You are an editor, not an Editor.
- Commas are important. Use them correctly or you can risk disaster.
Auto-correct: A comma is meant to give the reader a pause. So if you’re unsure about a sentence, say it out loud, pausing at the comma. Then remove the comma, and say the sentence without the pause. Classic example: If you’re fond of meals, children and your father’s mother, you would probably want a comma in this sentence: “I love eating kids and grandma.”
- Look it up if all else fails.
Auto-correct: Lay/lie – can’t remember. “If I was/were” – ditto. And is it further or farther? Hold on a sec… The point is to get it write. I mean… you know.
Jay Croft is an Atlanta communications consultant, writer and editor. His blog is storycroft.com.