Grammar can be an intimidating roadblock if you lack confidence in your content development prowess, until you realize there are common grammar mistakes that trip up just about everyone.
Knowing what goes where and why definitely gets easier the more you practice, and if you can learn from a good editor—even better. Another way is to use a handy editorial cheat sheet to get clear on common grammar slips ups and how to work around them.
Here are some of the most common grammar offenders:
To add a comma or not to add a comma, that is the question. If you are playing by the Oxford Dictionary rules:
Use the serial (Oxford) comma before the “and” or “or” in lists.
Ex. Content creation, marketing, social media, and distribution all come as part of your basic service package.
It also depends on what your team or company decides as part of their corporate style guide requirements. Whatever you choose, do it consistently.
As a repeat dash offender, it took me a while to commit this one to memory.
Use em dashes (or two hyphens) with no spaces for setting off text or emphasizing a point in a sentence.
Ex. Some of the pain points—compliance, customer trust, and the proliferation of digital information—are so pressing that financial services marketers hold off on launching innovative campaigns and stick to the basics.
Tackling Quotation Marks
Even if you have written an entire article in present tense, quotes are always offset by the word “said” or a “past tense” of the verb you choose.
Also remember to use double quotes on the outside of a comment and single ones inside if the person you are quoting references another source.
Ex. In an interview with Sally, she said, “When I walked into the building, I was greeted with a loud, ‘Hello there,’ from the gentleman at the front desk.”
Colons, semicolons, and dashes always go outside quotation marks unless part of a comment you are quoting. However, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.
Common Contraction Mishaps
Your vs. You’re
The word “your” is used to indicate a possession, for example, “Is this your website?”
While “you’re” is a contraction that places the words you and are together. “I heard that you’re finished with the SEO audit.”
Its vs. It’s
This creates similar confusion, even for the most seasoned of writers.
“Its” is the possessive tense while “it’s” is a contraction that combines the words it and is.
Ex. It’s a magical moment when a lost dog is reunited with its owner.
Word Choice Mix Ups
When you have a choice between two words, you have a 50/50 chance you’ll guess correctly. Here are some tips to instill confidence.
Effect vs. Affect
To affect means to produce a change or influence something.
Ex. How will the new invoicing structure affect the payroll department?
An effect is a change that has occurred.
Ex. The effect of the new invoicing structure will be negligible.
Affect is a verb 99% of the time; effect is a noun 99% of the time.
Me vs. I
Choosing between me or I is usually pretty clear, until you have to talk about yourself in relation to another person or group.
Take, for example, the following incorrect sentence: When you send along a copy of the report, can you please send it to Charlie and I?
When you read that again, and take out the name Charlie, it makes no sense. In this sentence structure, the “I” becomes the object of the sentence, and is not grammatically correct. In this example, me is the right choice to use.
Who vs. That
“Who” is used to describe people
Ex. Alex is a friend of mine who showed me how to navigate all this tricky grammar stuff.
“That” is used to describe objects
Ex. The picture on my desk is from that trip Alex took to Durango, CO this summer.
Headings and Subheadings
For you title junkies out there, you know how important they are for effective marketing content. Be sure to go easy on the caps.
Capitalize important words (everything but articles, conjunctions, and prepositions) in headings—the same goes for subheadings.
Correct: 10 Things You Didn’t Know about B2B and B2C Marketing
Incorrect: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About B2B And B2C Marketing
Standard Use of Common Words
With lots of new words being added to the business vernacular, it helps to know the standard use and how they change when used as a verb vs. a noun. Again, make sure you define these for your own organization, and use the styles you choose consistently.
- Follow up (verb)
- cloud-based (adjective)
- click-through (verb)
Now, you’re ready to tackle these common “grammar gotchas.”
What are some of the common grammar mistakes that always catch you by surprise?