Confessions of a Grammar Nerd: 5 Grammar Tips You Need to Know

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Nothing has amplified my relatability factor more than my affection for grammar tips. I mean, if that doesn’t scream “type of person you’d want to strike up a conversation in a bar with,” I don’t know what does.

Even if you can truthfully admit grammar’s not your strong suit, it’s important to at least know the basics in order to succeed in the professional world. You put far too much blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that your “interview shirt” is perfectly pressed to be set back by one grammar oversight.

Not convinced grammar matters? A Grammarly study found that professionals who failed to advance to a director-level position within 10 years of starting their career made two-and-a-half times as many grammar mistakes as their promoted colleagues.

It’s hard to market sloppiness, regardless of the field you’re in. That’s why we broke down these five grammar tips.

grammar tips

1. Avoid random capitalization.

I’d suppose we have Twitter to thank for the outbreak of capitalizing whatever letter you damn well please in a sentence without repercussions (or at least without that squiggly red line in Microsoft Word indicating you messed up). Capitalization beyond the start of a sentence is reserved for proper nouns — which refer to a specific person, place or thing.

Some visionaries would plead the creative license behind random capitalization, but this stylistic choice usually fails to hold up when it comes to business communication. Yeah, that means you shouldn’t try to turn a request to reschedule a meeting into a haiku. Uppercase letters scattered about in a professional document look sloppy, so save them for the specifics and move on.

2. Be spot-on with your possessive pronouns.

Misuse of possessive pronouns is probably one of the most common grammar mistakes of all time.

“I just think [people who misuse ‘its’] deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified for the position,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixIt, explains in his admission to the Harvard Business Review.

Harsh, I know. But here’s some tough love: what this really comes down to is that fine line between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit. Here’s one of my favorite grammar tips to check myself:

If you want to use the contraction “they’re,” you should be able to replace it with “they are” and have it still make sense. Similarly, you should be able to use “you are” in replacement of “you’re” and swap out “it is” with “it’s.” “There” is in reference to a place, while “their,”“your” and “its” all show possession.

3. Make sure your subject agrees with your verb (even if your subject gets lost along the way).  

If you were a try-hard back in elementary school who kept your desk clean with the wet wipes the teacher put on the supply list, you probably ended up knowing the basics of this rule almost instinctively (think back to the dog runs and the dogs run). Second grade degenerates, read on.

Grammar mistakes in subject-verb agreements are most often made upon formation of more complex sentences. Meaning: the sentence doesn’t start with the subject. Far too often, people lose sight of their subjects. Love your subject! Cherish it! NEVER LET GO, JACK (cue Titanic memes).

Identifying the subject of your sentence is probably one of the best grammar tips I can give to work in compliance with this rule. Odds are, you’ll find it’s just a hop, skip and sharp left turn past the adverb. Ask yourself: Who or what is doing the action in this sentence? No matter how complicated your sentence gets, make sure the subject still agrees with the verb.

4. Steer clear of wordy sentences.

It may be a blanket statement, but there’s truly an art to writing simple, clear sentences. It’s easy to get caught up in a professional environment and want to sound like a scholar, but it’s not effective if people have to work to understand your meaning. You’ll ultimately come off negatively or just lose your audience’s attention altogether. This can be avoided — especially in longer pieces of content — by streamlining your focus and outlining the specific points you want to make.

5. Keep your pronoun references clear.  

Who said what to whom? We often use pronouns to replace nouns, but if you have multiple subjects and use multiple pronouns to replace them, the end result can be quite confusing. Many people make this mistake because they think restating proper nouns come off as repetitive, but if you have multiple subjects, sometimes you just have to roll with it. Example:

“Kevin told Paul that he had won the lottery.”

This could be very good for either Kevin or Paul. Because we aren’t certain to whom the “he” is in reference to, though, we’ll never know which guy we should try to befriend.

grammar tips


Some extra grammar tips for the road.

Even if you absorbed absolutely none of that (we’ll try not to take offense), here are a few good rules of thumb for the world of business communication:

  • If you’re not sure, work around it. If there’s a rule you can’t quite get the hang of, don’t stress yourself out trying to get it right. “It’s better to err on the side of grammar caution,” Susan Adams, Forbes contributor, advises. Instead, restructure your sentence to work around that problem area.
  • Keep an eye out for run-on sentences. Simply put, nix them. If you notice a lot of run-on sentences in your text, this probably indicates that your topic isn’t as streamlined as you’d like it to be. Especially in concentrated mediums, you should be getting straight to the point. This may be a sign to refocus on your main task or start from scratch on the piece.
  • Triple check. Because double checking just doesn’t get it done anymore.

Not confident in your grammar skills? Maybe it’s time to stop handling your own copywriting. Tweet us at @QuinlanCompany to learn more.

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