Ah, English grammar! The seemingly ever-changing world of sentence structure. You haven’t studied it since high school, but you speak English. It’s natural to know to place your commas and how to order clauses, right? Well, sometimes….
Believe me, I fully understand the perils of writing a blog article about grammar – you will all be searching through this with a fine-toothed comb, looking for mistakes (deliberate, of course!) So, let’s start with a disclaimer: Socrates is widely credited as saying that the only thing he knew for certain was that he knew nothing. Please also apply the aforementioned statement to this lowly writer and bear with me as I step gingerly into the minefield that is the English language.
Many grammar guidelines are fluid and flexible. Sometimes, it genuinely doesn’t matter which punctuation mark you use. However, you could spend hours on a carefully-researched report or article, only for the credibility to be undermined by spelling mistakes or confusing grammar. But, who has hours to spend brushing up on syntax and obscure punctuation?
Here are my 3 basic rules to help take the stress out of the everyday use of grammar:
- Tailor your writing. A blog article can be much more conversational in style than a doctoral thesis. Therefore, the grammar more relaxed. Work out when it’s most important to adhere to those grammatical imperatives and when it’s actually ok to start a sentence with an “and” or pepper your text with exclamation marks for effect!
- If you don’t understand it, don’t use it! Don’t take a wild stab in the dark at the correct use of a semi-colon or an ellipsis. The wonderful thing about the eccentric English language is that there’s ALWAYS another way to say what you mean! Simplify your sentences and stick to what you know.
- Use back-up.Find someone that knows more than you, use a reference book (such as “Grammar for Grown-ups” by Craig Shrives), an online tool (like Grammarly.com) or employ a competent proofreader and/or copywriter.
And… if you’re a grammar nut like me, there’s always more to learn (or refresh yourself on!) I’d recommend the Publishing Training College’s “Grammar at Work” course. I’m definitely not an expert, but I want to get it right. After all, everyone needs a hobby…