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A task is difficult. A table is hard!

This is something my aunt who was an English teacher said to me one day when I was young, and it’s something that has stuck in my mind ever since. This was the start of my fascination with words, and probably the root of my frustration when I see them being used incorrectly.

As a copywriter, I understand how to use words, and how to structure a sentence correctly. I suppose to me it’s second nature, but for many, it’s not so easy.

But that doesn’t mean that you should be sloppy when you write. You still need to know when to use 'it' or 'it's' or the difference between 'their' and 'there'. In other words, good grammar still matters.

fist hitting hard desk

One of the things I love about being a copywriter is that you can often throw the rule book out of the window when you write. Generally, the best way to engage with a reader is to write as if you’re having a conversation with them.

So if you want to start a sentence with ‘and' or but’ that’s OK, because that’s how people speak. But the wrong use of words or badly constructed sentences is not OK.

Why good grammar matters

Social media has had a massive influence on how people write. When we write on social media or message someone we abbreviate things and write in short bursts as we need to say something in a limited number of words, but that doesn’t mean we should write like that all the time.

Of course, language and styles have evolved over the years, if they didn’t we’d all be speaking the way people did in Chaucer’s time. But when it comes to business and professional communication, good grammar is essential. It helps us to explain instructions, our thoughts, ideas and even problems clearly. It helps to present a person or company as professional through a well-written CV, job application, website or proposal.

Bad grammar leads to confusion or miscommunication and shows a lack of attention to detail. It can cause someone to question whether they trust and have confidence in that person or company.

So here are some of the more common grammatical errors and how to overcome them.

Magnifying glass over the word Grammar

The dreaded apostrophe

So many people find the apostrophe tricky, often to the point where they leave it out altogether.

But it’s not really that difficult if you follow some simple rules:

Contraction – Where an apostrophe is used to shorten a word or words. This is quite simply where the apostrophe is used instead to indicate missing letters. Typical examples of these are:

  • Cannot Can’t

  • Do not Don’t

  • Has not hasn’t

  • Is not Isn’t

  • Should have Should’ve

  • They have They’ve

  • You will You’ll

  • Should have Should’ve

Contractions tend to be used in less formal writing such as in blogs.

Possessive noun – These can vary, which is probably why people find using an apostrophe with a possessive noun so confusing. But a simple way to think of it is that the apostrophe is there to show a connection between things.

  • If the noun is singular, then the general rule of thumb is to use ‘s.

- The room’s lighting or Mark’s desk.

  • If the noun is plural but already ends in an s, then add an apostrophe at the end.

- The workers’ kitchen (multiple workers).

  • If the noun is plural but doesn’t end in an s, then add ‘s.

- The children’s sweets.

I know what you're going to say - what about 'it's' and 'its'?

  • 'It’s' is a shortened version (contraction) of 'it is' or 'it has', not as people sometimes think an indication of possession because it ends in an ‘s.’ If the sentence makes sense using 'it is' or 'it has', then you can use the apostrophe.

- He can’t find his office pass, he thinks it’s at home.

  • 'Its' on the other hand is possessive, it means belonging to it, but refers to something that doesn’t have a gender such as a building, a road or a car (although some people do refer to their cars as he or she!).

- The petrol station raised its prices. (If you think about it, 'the petrol station

raised it is prices' doesn’t make sense, so you don't use an apostrophe).

person writing "their muddling up their words" in pen on a paper. Their is spelt wrong

But they all sound the same!

Homophones, or words that sound the same to you and me, but mean different things. These can be confusing and often trip people up:

There, their or they’re?

  • 'There' is used mainly as an adverb meaning a place. Just think of it as the opposite of here.

- He went there to buy a coffee.

  • It can also be used as a pronoun to introduce a subject in a sentence.

- There is a crack in the window.

  • 'Their' is something owned by a group.

- Where is their office. Or “Is their manager joining the meeting?

  • 'They’re' is a shortened version (contraction) of ‘they are’.

- They’re going to win the award or They’re better off getting the train.

Your or You’re?

  • 'Your' is possessive, it means belonging to you.

- How’s your new job going?

  • 'You’re' on the other hand is an abbreviation (contraction) of ‘you are.'

- You’re really going to like working with the team.

To or too?

  • 'To' is typically used to indicate a direction, destination, recipient or action.

- Go to the office, give it to him or talk to them.

  • 'Too' can be used as an alternative to 'also' or to mean excessive.

- Can I come too? or “they charge too much for their surveys.

Affect or effect?

  • 'Affect' is a verb, it influences or has an impact on something. It causes a change.

- The work had been affected by the bad weather.

  • 'Effect' is a noun and indicates the result of being affected by something, the outcome

- The painkillers were starting to have an effect.

  • 'Effect' can also sometimes be used as a verb to cause something to happen

- You need to effect the changes now.

A brand or business is always singular

This is something that was drummed into me when I first started writing professionally, but it’s surprising how many people don’t know that when you refer to a company, brand or even a team it’s always in the singular.

An individual company, team etc is an ‘it’ not ‘they.’

There are of course exceptions such as when you want to use first-person pronouns such as we, our or us.

At XYX Company we pride ourselves on our customer service, or

Please contact us if you need any help with your website.

Yellow road sign with the word Oops! on it

People forgive the odd typo or incorrect word

Writing correctly, especially when it comes to grammar can be confusing and there are so many more examples of where people can slip up. But hopefully, the ones outlined above have helped you understand where you may have been going wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes, but there is a difference between making mistakes and being careless or sloppy. Always proofread your copy and think carefully about what you’ve written, and if you’re not sure, why not speak to someone who understands the rules and the importance of correctly written content!

I understand how to write engaging, error-free copy, so if you're not sure if it's a compliment or complement, or whether to use an ! drop me a line or give me a call. Let's have a chat.


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