Getting to grips with grammar

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Yes, I know it’s International Women’s Day this week, but personally I feel the subject has been well and truly covered by the dearth of emails, newsletters, and media coverage on female related content. Meanwhile, it was National Grammar Day last week, and I felt this poorer cousin needed a little love, particularly in view of how important it is to our language and communication (and how little that is appreciated).

I really want to keep things simple, because I feel people tend to shun grammar rules, thinking it is too complicated, and it really doesn’t need to be. In fact, the opposite is true, and, as with most elements of effective writing, the simpler, the better. So, in that spirit, four key things to remember:

1. Simple sentence structures

If you want your writing to be easily scanned, understood, processed, and remembered (and surely that’s exactly what you want from your writing in this age of low attention spans and multiple distractions) then you need to construct straightforward simple sentences that are based on Subject Verb Object, ie ‘the Chairman wrote a blog post’. You can obviously expand these sentences with descriptions and by linking other ideas, but the basic structure of the sentence should follow this simple format.

2. Keeping active

Following on from the above, make sure your sentences are active, and you don’t slip into using the passive tense, ie ‘a blog post was written by the Chairman’ (this is the passive form of the example given in the previous point). Keep it active with the object of the action at the end of the sentence.

3. Consistent tenses

In line with this point, make sure all your tenses are consistent, whether these are past, present, future, conditional, active or passive. You don’t want to be jumping around all over the place as this will only confuse your readers. When you’re proof reading your writing, make sure you double check the tenses you have used for consistency.

4. Matching subjects with verbs

Another element to keep an eye on when proofreading, make sure the subject of your sentence matches the verb. Be particularly careful of pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, they, everyone, both, somebody, who, which, what) that these match the verb. One of the common mistakes for example is using the plural verb ending for words like company/group or staff, ie  ‘the company/group offer great benefits’, when it should be ‘the company/group offers great benefits’ because company/group/staff are all singular words, not plural.

5. Correct punctuation

If you’ve read any of my other writing posts, you’ll know that punctuation and capitalisation are particular bugbears of mine. Again, people often try to over-complicate things and use as many colons and semicolons as they can, perhaps believing this makes them look smarter or a more distinguished writer. If you are following the other basic rules and keeping your sentences short, with simple structures, you shouldn’t need to over-punctuate. I’m not going to go into huge detail about punctuation rules here, as that is probably a blog post to itself, but one simple tip is to try reading your writing aloud. You pause where you have punctuation. How does your writing flow? Can you get through your sentences in one breath, only pausing at the punctuation, or are you running out of air but the time you finally reach that full stop?

I’ll look into doing another post on punctuation so that I can expand a bit more, but for now, if you’d like any more information, please feel free to email me on sam@footstepcommunications.com

 

 

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