Grammar tips for sounding polished

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Grammar tips for sounding polished

Grammar. The word can bring back unpleasant memories of your middle school English teacher. And where you work, there is likely at least one communications professional whose job it is to edit customer-facing content. But in 2016, people in every industry find themselves writing content without sending it to someone else first—whether it’s for a tweet, a blog or a conference presentation. Here is a quick refresher on common grammar mistakes, to help you sound like the polished professional you are.

Common mistakes

  1. Their, they’re and there. Autocorrect can sometimes trip you up with these. Using the wrong version, just like using it’s when you mean its, can damage your credibility instantly in the eyes of your reader. Their is a possessive: “The volunteers planted their vegetables in the community garden.” They’re is a contraction of they and are: “They’re planning to raise carrots and peas.” And there refers to the location: “The seed packets are over there.”
  2. Every day and everyday. Every day is used to refer to something happening each day: “I ride my bike to work every day.” Everyday is a word that describes something you use often: “I wear an everyday cycling outfit, nothing special.”
  3. Principal and principle. A principal is a person, such as the highest-ranking official, or the main component of something: “Saving energy was the principal reason for installing solar panels.” A principle is a moral belief or fundamental law: “The principle of living with a small footprint informed all her decisions.”
  4. Which and that. How you use these depends on the sentence structure. Which is for saying something about your subject that isn’t crucial to the main message of the sentence. For example, “Paint recycling, which is catching on in the D.C. area, will be easier next month with the arrival of a paint collection location.” That is for restricting the meaning to a particular category: “Paint cans that are empty go into this bin.” For a more thorough explanation, check out Grammar Girl’s post on the subject.

More resources

  • Grammar Girl: Mignon Fogarty’s “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” answer typical questions about all things grammar and usage. She also has a regular podcast
  • The Elements of Style: Strunk and White’s classic book has been helping writers with their craft since 1920. Its humorous tone and brevity make it a surprisingly engaging read.
  • The Oatmeal has some hilarious cartoons illustrating grammar concepts. Try this one on the proper use of apostrophes.
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