Grammar is a touchy subject, especially for those who write professionally. After a lot of finger pointing and excuses, you’re either a member of the grammar police or an “I write in the language of my audience – grammar errors and all” rebel.
You don’t have to take sides. Think of grammar like this:
Language, with all of its idiosyncrasies from dialect to dialect, is the vehicle of your message.
You can get into the vehicle, but grammar is what drives your message to your intended destination.
When you come across an article about grammar, such as this post, don’t look at it as an accusation you’re failing at writing if you do or have done these 5 things. Look at it as an opportunity to get into the vehicle and deliver your message to your audience.
Let’s get started!
Don’t Overuse “However”
Used to introduce a statement that contrasts or contradicts something that was previously said or a synonym for “in whatever way or regardless of how,” the word “however” offers great flexibility. Here are a few examples:
The chef claimed the food was safe; however, we were skeptical. However, it was extremely wise to take precautions when cockroaches are present. There was no need, however, for the emergency responders. However you look at it, the chef prepared a delicious meal.
Here’s the rub with this word: when it’s overused, it can seem condescending or pompous to the reader.
Tip: Be real with your readers and feel free to compare/contrast; however, simply ease up on the use of “however” whenever you can to avoid a negatively perceived, “know-it-all” attitude.
Stop Abusing “So”
I’m sure you’ve seen the attacks on the word “very” across the Internet (“stop using very!” the grammar-mob cries), but how about its gross counterpart “so?”
So let’s go … that’s soooo cool … So you should … I was so pleased at first, but it turned out to be only so-so … You might feel a bit weird, so it’s important to … So there you have it!
“So” is the writer’s version of “um” for public speakers.
Tip: Much like the excess usage of the word “very,” you can avoid “so” by using more descriptive language (e.g., “I was so wildly pleased”) and eliminating it where it’s not necessary (e.g., “So lLet’s go”).
Take It Easy on Commas
True or False: “You should use a comma anywhere you pause.” False! You may pause at a comma when reading text out loud, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Some pauses are used for dramatic effect, to catch your breath during a speech, or to think of what to say next. For instance, consider the classic speech pattern of William Shatner. During a Q&A at the 2010 Toronto Fan Expo, he addressed the frequency of his pauses by saying the following:*
“The speech pattern, to which you so gallantly pointed out, probably happened because I was trying to remember 10 pages of dialogue every day. And in the pauses I’d be thinking, ‘what the hell do I say next?'”
If we followed the “use a comma anywhere you pause” myth, then this is what the above quote would have looked like based on Shatner’s speech pattern:
“The speech pattern, to which you so, gallantly pointed out, probably happened because I was trying to remember, 10 pages of dialogue, every day. And in the, pauses, I’d be thinking, ‘what the hell, do I say next?”
Tip: Get to know the comma intimately by checking out the comma section in the Top Punctuation Howlers PDF punctuation guide here.
Wait; Where Are You Going With That Semicolon?
Semicolons are likely the most mystifying items of punctuation for many professionals. Take, for instance, these 2 incorrect examples of semicolon usage that I gathered while reviewing a peer’s work:
Remember; it’s important to …
Note; to make use of the …
Semicolons are used to separate independent clauses (typically related) or used to separate elements in a series when the items are longer or set off by commas. For example:
Semicolons aren’t too bad; you simply need two independent clauses.
In my peer’s examples, the segments preceding the semicolon are not independent clauses and there’s no sign of a complicated series. Here’s what I recommended to my peer (essentially lose the semicolon altogether):
It’s important to remember …
Note: To make use of the …
Tip: If the statements on either side of the semicolon are not independent, then don’t use a semicolon. (You can find out more about the semicolon and examples by downloading the Top Punctuation Howlers PDF; click the link in the “Take It Easy on Commas” section of this post.)
Avoid Redundant Redundancies
Repetition has its uses, but there’s a big difference between effective frequency and verbiage. Here are 7 examples of redundant phrases we find in articles (I’ve crossed out the unnecessary words):
- actual facts point to …
- … completely filled to the brim.
- plunge down the …
- retreat back to …
- … was skipped over.
- … exact same object.
- … whether or not …
Tip: Revise your work by reading it out loud and weighing the value of each word. For more tips on revising your articles to remove verbiage, visit the Short and Sweet: How to Revise Your Articles blog post by clicking here.
Do you have any grammar “driving” tips to share? Besides an overuse of “however,” do you have any other examples of good grammar that may be considered condescending? Can you recall any other redundant phrases that drive you bonkers? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you!
Want more grammar tips? Check out the wealth of posts over in our Grammar Tips category.
* tjmooney. (2010, August 30). William Shatner. Talks. About. His. Distinctive. Speaking. Style. [Video file]. Retrieved from YouTube.
PS: Our Mother’s Day special is in full swing! See why others are saying EzineArticles’ Article Templates work wonders for writer’s block by clicking the banner below to get your FREE 15 Keys to Working at Home Article Templates when you purchase 2 Build Your Own Article Template Packages. That’s a $20.97 savings for 45 original Article Templates!