As a textual content editing professional we are often, affectionately or otherwise, referred to as the ‘Grammar Police’! Guilty as charged but then again we are hired to make sure each client’s written content is well-conceived and constructed, makes sense and is highly engaging to its targeted audience. I wear the badge proudly!
In this article I will share some of the more glaring grammatical issues frequenting written content whether in book publications of fiction or non-fiction, advertising and marketing copy, technical writing and any other form or source of written content.
Dictionary.com defines ‘grammar‘ as follows:
Grammatical rules are indeed complex and widely varied. Complexities of the English language have been passed down through the generations in the form of established and accepted standards, most often found in ‘style guides’ which have been developed in specific countries around the world. Editorial and proofreading professionals use such guides as reference materials when reviewing and revising written content for their clients or in-house staff.
The complexities of the English language demand that we study in great detail the definition, applications and intended usage of specific words or word groups such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, subjects and more to ensure that we apply correct wording in our written compositions in the appropriate form such that those words, combined together, are in grammatical ‘agreement’.
- single subjects require the compliment of a single verb and plural subjects require the compliment of plural verbs i.e. The list of items is/are on the desk. In this example the ‘list’ is the subject (singular), therefore ‘is’ would be the correct verb used.
Who Vs Whom
- Rule: Use this he/him method to decide whether who or whom is correct:he = who
him = whom
Who/Whom wrote the letter?
He wrote the letter. Therefore, who is correct.
Who/Whom should I vote for?
Should I vote for him? Therefore, whom is correct.
Who, That, Which
Rule 1. Who and sometimes that refer to people. That and which refer to groups or things.
Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
“The Man That Got Away” is a great song with a grammatical title.
Lokua is on the team that won first place.
She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.
Rule 2a. That introduces what is called an essential clause (also known as a restrictive or defining clause). Essential clauses add information that is vital to the point of the sentence.
Example: I do not trust products that claim “all natural ingredients” because this phrase can mean almost anything.
We would not know the type of products being discussed without the that clause.
Rule 2b. Which introduces a nonessential clause (also known as a nonrestrictive or nondefining clause), which adds supplementary information.
Example: The product claiming “all natural ingredients,” which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, is on sale.
The product is already identified. Therefore, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper is a nonessential clause containing additional, but not essential, information.
Definition: A preposition is a word or set of words that indicates location (in, near, beside, on top of) or some other relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence (about, after, besides, instead of, in accordance with). A preposition isn’t a preposition unless it goes with a related noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition.
Let’s meet before noon.
Before is a preposition; noon is its object.
We’ve never met before.
There is no object; before is an adverb modifying met.
Rule 1. A preposition generally, but not always, goes before its noun or pronoun. One of the undying myths of English grammar is that you may not end a sentence with a preposition. But look at the first example that follows. No one should feel compelled to say, or even write, That is something with which I cannot agree. Just do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them.
Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.
Correct: Where did you get this?
Incorrect: Where did you get this at?
Correct: How many of you can I depend on?
Correct: Where did he go?
Incorrect: Where did he go to?
Rule 2a. The preposition like means “similar to” or “similarly to.” It should be followed by an object of the preposition (noun, pronoun, noun phrase), not by a subject and verb. Rule of thumb: Avoid like when a verb is involved.
You look like your mother.
That is, you look similar to her. (Mother is the object of the preposition like.)
You look like your mother does.
(Avoid like with noun + verb.)
Rule 2b. Instead of like, use as, as if, as though, or the way when following a comparison with a subject and verb.
Correct: You look the way your mother does.
Incorrect: Do like I ask. (No one would say Do similarly to I ask.)
Correct: Do as I ask.
Incorrect: You look like you’re angry.
Correct: You look as if you’re angry. (OR as though)
Some speakers and writers, to avoid embarrassment, use as when they mean like. The following incorrect sentence came from a grammar guide:
Incorrect: They are considered as any other English words.
Correct: They are considered as any other English words would be.
Correct: They are considered to be like any other English words.
Remember: like means “similar to” or “similarly to”; as means “in the same manner that.” Rule of thumb: Do not use as unless there is a verb involved.
Incorrect: I, as most people, try to use good grammar.
Correct: I, like most people, try to use good grammar.
Correct: I, as most people do, try to use good grammar.
The rule distinguishing like from as, as if, as though, and the way is increasingly ignored, but English purists still insist upon it.
Rule 3. The preposition of should never be used in place of the helping verb have.
Correct: I should have done it.
Incorrect: I should of done it.
Rule 4. It is a good practice to follow different with the preposition from. Most traditionalists avoid different than. Although it is an overstatement to call different than incorrect, it remains polarizing: A is different than B comes across as sloppy to a lot of literate readers. If you can replace different than with different from without having to rewrite the rest of the sentence, why not do so?
Polarizing: You’re different than I am.
Unchallengeable: You’re different from me.
Rule 5. Use into rather than in to express motion toward something. Use in to tell the location.
Correct: I swam in the pool.
Correct: I walked into the house.
Correct: I looked into the matter.
Incorrect: I dived in the water.
Correct: I dived into the water.
Incorrect: Throw it in the trash.
Correct: Throw it into the trash.
The foregoing ‘rules’ have been extracted verbatim from GrammarBook.com and are but a few of the standards of the English language effectively and properly applied. The publication also addresses proper punctuation which is equally as complex.
This list of punctuation used in the English language is extensive and includes (not entirely):
- spacing with punctuation
- quotation marks (including single quote)
- parentheses and brackets
- question marks
- exclamation points
There are a multiple of on and offline resources that address the English language, grammar, punctuation, sentence composition and more such as GrammarBook.com, Grammarly.com, many of which also incorporate punctuation, grammar and spell check and plagiarism detection.
MS Word documents have a spelling and grammar check which also provides a readability scoring analysis; an effective way to determine whether the content will be readily understood by its targeted audience.
The advantages of a full working comprehension of established rules of grammar and punctuation cannot be understated. Studies in the English language with grammatical elements incorporated in the programs are highly recommended for anyone who will be required to perform at a high skill level from post secondary school studies through to their chosen career path. The greater your comprehension and application of the language, the better qualified you will be to advance your career based on that exceptional performance level.