Grammar gets a bad rap. Just hearing the word “grammar” might conjure up memories of a dull, strict teacher, a stressful high school or college exam, or a gaffe in your last email to a client. If grammar evokes such negative responses, why do we care so much about it?
No one likes grammar, but it’s essential to human understanding. As The National Council of Teachers of English puts it, “knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity." Grammar ensures that we understand one another.
For instance, if I say, “Can you hand me twenty-five dollar bills?” Would you think I’ve started printing my own $25 bills? What if I said, “Let’s eat my friends.” Would you think I’m suggesting we eat our friends for dinner?
These grammar mistakes are funny, but poor grammar can have dire consequences. Read on to find out more about why it’s important to study grammar, what could go wrong if you don’t use proper grammar, and how to avoid the most common grammar mistakes.
Grammar is important Because it helps us discuss and interpret language. On a granular level, grammar enables us to understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear, interesting, and precise. On a more elevated level, grammar sets us up to analyze an author’s phrasing, tone, and sentence structure as a mechanism for enhancing their main argument. Outside of an academic setting, grammar is important because it:
Technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible, and a majority of that connection is fostered through writing. Greater communication isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves ample room for error. Below, we list a few risks of using poor grammar in your everyday writing.
It’s hard to ignore bad grammar when you see it. Errors immediately take readers out of the moment, detracting them from the essence of your writing. After a while, these mistakes will bore, confuse, or even annoy your readers. This is particularly problematic if you’re writing digital content since the first few sentences are critical to keeping your audience engaged. You want to stand out一not because of your poor grammar, but because of your fantastic ideas.
Have you ever read an email with a glaring grammatical error in the first paragraph? If yes, did you question the author's authority? Whether we admit it or not, many of us have a bias when it comes to grammatical literacy. Even little errors can make a writer seem careless. Instead, focus on giving the impression that you pay close attention to detail.
Many people will not hire someone if they catch a gaffe in a resume or cover letter. 4 in 10 job applications are rejected due to poor grammar and spelling. When you’re employed, you represent a company’s brand. This applies to emails and website copy you write, or even messages you send to your colleagues or clients at work. If you aren’t an effective writer, you won’t portray the brand in a positive light.
In this day and age, most companies work remotely. Using poor grammar in these circumstances can completely change the meaning of certain tasks, client commitments, or conflicts. Companies that master communication will have an edge over others. With proper grammar, companies can make more informed, better decisions, grow their company faster by conveying responsibilities clearly, and build stronger relationships with their clients.
Have you ever attempted to write an email that could get you a refund? Have you written a letter to the editor explaining why an article was problematic? Have you ever written a profile on a dating site? If your communication was full of unjustifiable mistakes, it was probably hard for customer service managers, editors, or even potential suitors to take you seriously. In fact, in a study of 1700 online dating sites, 43% of users considered bad grammar decidedly unattractive and 35% thought good grammar was appealing. When messages contained many grammatical errors, the writers were perceived as “less conscientious, intelligent, and trustworthy.”
Everybody makes mistakes. Improving your grammar depends on your ability to identify common errors. Watch out for the following grammar culprits一chances are, you are making some of these mistakes!
Possessive pronouns (pronouns that show something belongs to someone, like “mine”) are another grammar trap. Apostrophes are supposed to signify whether someone or something possesses someone or something else. Pronouns should never use apostrophes to indicate possession. Here are some common examples of apostrophes used incorrectly in this context:
Incorrect: You’re hiking boots are by the door.
Correct: Your hiking boots are by the door.
“You’re” is a contraction that combines the words “you” and “are”. So, the incorrect sentence would read, “You are hiking boots are by the door.” Not only is this sentence repetitive, it implies that the “you” is a hiking boot.
Incorrect: They’re cookies are delicious.
Correct: Their cookies are delicious.
“They’re” is a contraction that combines the words “they” and “are”. Again, when spelling out the first sentence, it would mean, “They are cookies are delicious.”
Verb tenses are difficult to maintain, especially if you’re writing a long paper. It’s important to pause and ask yourself whether a sentence is consistent between past and present tense.
Incorrect: I walk to the pet store and I bought a fish.
Incorrect: I had walked to the pet store and I bought a fish.
Correct: I walked to the pet store and I bought a fish.
The first incorrect sentence has two different tenses in it. “I walk to” is present tense, while “I bought” is past tense. The second incorrect sentence also has mismatched tense. “I had walked” is the past perfect tense, while “I bought a fish” is past tense. The final, correct version has tenses that match一“I walked” is past tense, and so is “I bought a fish.”
Be careful if you choose to write in the past tense. Many irregular verbs don’t fit the expected pattern of adding “-ed” to the end of the word.
Incorrect: They swimmed to shore.
Correct: They swam to shore.
Finally, watch out for consistency in the future tense. It’s easy to think you’re on the right track only to realize that your verb tense is inconsistent.
Incorrect: I will give you a raise when you will pass your certification.
Correct: I will give you a raise when you pass your certification.
When speaking, it’s common to say “coulda”, “shoulda”, or “woulda”. Each of those terms are an abbreviation of two other words. The problem is, many people assume that “shoulda” is a shortened term for “should of”:
Incorrect: I should of done my homework yesterday.
Correct: I should’ve done my homework yesterday.
The correct version contains the abbreviation for “should have”, which is “should’ve”. This applies to situations where you use could’ve (instead of “could of”) and would’ve (instead of “would of”) as well.
Run-on sentences refer to two complete sentences smashed together without punctuation or a conjunction. Here’s an example:
Incorrect: John was delighted by the present he received for Christmas however he likes the gift he got for his birthday better.
Correct: John was delighted by the present he received for Christmas; however, he likes the gift he got for his birthday better.
Did the first sentence confuse you when you read it? That’s because it was hard to tell when new ideas were introduced. The semicolon provides a necessary pause to show that while John enjoyed the present he got for Christmas, he preferred his birthday present.
If you’d rather not use a comma or semicolon, try splitting up run-on sentences into two separate ones, like so:
1. John was delighted by the present he received for Christmas.
2. He likes the gift he got for his birthday better.
Words can drastically affect the meaning of sentences depending on where they are located. Ambiguous modifiers are words that could either modify the phrase before or after it because of where they are placed in a sentence. For instance:
Incorrect: Working out slowly makes me stronger.
Correct: When I workout, I slowly get stronger.
In the incorrect sentence above, it’s hard to tell if the subject is working out slowly, or if he or she is getting stronger over time because of working out. Moving an ambiguous modifier’s position in the sentence and adding some punctuation makes it easier for readers to figure out the true meaning of the sentence.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Gee, I make all of these mistakes!” If that’s the case, don’t fret. There are many grammar rules to remember, and nobody is perfect. Plus, grammar isn’t the only aspect of being a good writer. Understanding your audience’s motivations, presenting fresh ideas, and being persuasive are other perhaps even more significant.
The good news is that you can take steps towards improving your writing each day. There are plenty of online tools that can suggest ways to strengthen your arguments while trimming excess words. Homer automatically identifies repetitive words and difficult sentences, making editing easy. Furthermore, Homer has built-in stats like “words per sentence”, “sentences per paragraph”, and “syllables per word”. These metrics can pinpoint areas you need to clean up or spice up with new rhythms. To ensure your writing is in line with English grammatical standards, Homer highlights passive voice and overuse of adverbs.
Start improving your writing today with a free trial of Homer.