The English language is arguably the most complicated language of them all. It has a structure that is vastly different from many foreign languages and rules with the logic that states, “Just because.” With a language like this, it’s almost too easy to make a mistake. There are those of us who catch these mistakes quickly and others who aren’t as tuned-in to the depths of language. For any writer, it’s hard not to become frustrated with the ins and outs of English grammar.
As we write for our businesses, it is vital that our customers see us as knowledgeable and professional. We may produce content that is conveying an excellent message, but if there are typos, style issues, or grammar errors our customers will likely become distracted and focus more on the mistakes we make than our message. To avoid grammar mistakes in our content, proofreading is a must! It is part of my job here at Rough Draft Solutions to proofread and edit and then proofread and edit some more! Editing can be a tough and nitpicky task, but knowing how to do it effectively can make a big difference.
Today, I will share 4 frequent grammar mistakes you should watch out for while writing and proofreading to maintain your company's credibility and professionalism.
Confusing words that sound alike
The biggest mistake any writer could make would be to rely on spell check. Why? Several reasons, but an important one would be because there are words called “homophones.” Homophones are words that sound the same despite having different spellings and meanings. As you could imagine, mixing up words like these in a professional piece would be embarrassing and could risk a lot for your business. It is easy to make these mistakes, however, because often we type quickly and don’t edit thoroughly. Here are a few commonly mistaken homophones you should be aware of when writing your content:
To, Too, Two
To: expressing direction, or indicating infinitive.
Too: very, also
Two: the number 2
Their, They’re, There
Their: shows possession
They’re: contraction for they are
There: that place
Accept: to receive or to agree
Except: means but or other than
Even if we’re 99% sure we’re using the correct form of a word, it’s always a good idea to double check, so the overall message is not lost. If you know there are words you frequently get confused, make a list and look them up to be sure you won’t say something you don’t mean!
Improper comma use
I remember being taught about commas in grade school. They would always say “Place a comma where you would take a breath.” Sure, this may be what we do when we reach a comma in a sentence; however, it’s not okay to insert a comma anywhere we please. There are in fact grammar rules that tell us where we should appropriately place commas.
Commas are used:
To separate word or word groups in a series of three or more items.
To separate adjectives when the adjectives are interchangeable.
To join two independent clauses that are combined using and, but, or, etc.
After a dependent clause that starts a sentence.
After introductory adverbs.
Shifting verb tense
When speaking, we can get away with making a lot of grammar mistakes. In writing, the mistakes are much more evident. When writing about the past, present, or future be sure to keep all of the verbs in the same tense. For example, if we were to say “I walked in the room,” we would want to follow it with “everyone stared” because “walked” and “stared” are both past tense. If we were to accidentally change it in the middle of the sentence, it would sound off when we read it all together as, “I walked in the room, everyone stares.” See? Shifting verb tense can happen without us even knowing it! This only reaffirms why proofreading is key!
Which vs. That
A common struggle for many writers is deciding which of these words is appropriate to use. People typically choose the one that sounds right to them. Like the many other tough topics and debates in English grammar, there is a rule! The rule is that “that” should be used before a restrictive clause; if it’s not a restrictive clause, use which. A restrictive clause is a part of the sentence you can’t get rid of because it is essential to the sentence’s meaning.
For example, let’s use the sentence “My car that is blue goes very fast.” Using “that” suggests that this person has more than one car and also implies that their other car or cars may not go as fast. If we were to take out the restrictive clause, “that is blue,” we would be left with a sentence that says, “My car goes very fast.” This changes the meaning of the sentence.
The reader does not know which one of the cars this person is referring to. It is essential to explain the car they are referring to is the one “that is blue,” or else the sentence would have a different meaning. Something you can ask yourself when deciding between “that” and “which” is, “If I were to remove this piece of information from the sentence, does it change the meaning?”
We use “which” in a nonrestrictive clause. You could guess that this means these words don’t change the meaning of the sentence if they are taken out. You’d be right! Commas usually surround these clauses, so it’s easy to see the sentence without the clause. An example of a nonrestrictive clause using “which” would be “Our products, which are highly eco-friendly, are high in demand.” The clause “which are highly eco-friendly” can be taken out, and the sentence would still make sense and read as, “Our products are high in demand.”
The English language is full of crazy rules and guidelines that don’t always make sense, but we should abide by them, especially when writing for our business. Many of these principles may seem annoying or confusing, but taking the time to understand what each rule means and why we follow it can improve our writing and the way we communicate with customers.
We hope to write more on this topic, so we would love your feedback. What questions do you have about grammar?