The danger about writing about this blog topic is that you worry if every subsequent blog you write afterward is going to be scrutinized for grammar. However, an assignment is an assignment.
When it comes to blogging and writing good content, there are modest rules to follow. Blogs are usually written in conversation style so it’s acceptable to stray from the AP Style Guide. Yet, you still have to write intelligibly so that you maintain credibility. Blogger Brian Clark has said, “…some people will not subscribe or link to your blog if you make dumb mistakes when you write, and buying from you will be out of the question.” I couldn’t agree more.
That being said, there are some mistakes that can not only make you jeopardize readership, but also make you sound less than intelligent. Below I provide some common examples of grammar mistakes and some tricks to remember how not to make them:
- It’s vs. Its
This is a super common mistake that even I make. Oftentimes people think that because an apostrophe is used to make things possessive to indicate that “something belongs to,” that the same rule applies when using it. However, it’s is a contraction and stands for it is or it has and you should always be able to substitute those two words in your sentence when using in a sentence. Otherwise, if you can’t then use its.
- Your vs You’re
You’re is the contraction form of you are and is always used with the verb “to be” and the subject is always you. Similar to It’s vs Its above, you should always be able to substitute the words “you are” when using you’re.
Tip: If you can’t substitute those words then default to your.
- Misspelling the word “definitely”
This is my #1 pet peeve when someone spells it with an “a”, i.e. definately. When I read this word misspelled — especially from an executive, all I can think of is…illiterate.
Tip: Remember, definitely is ‘finite’.
- Affect vs Effect
“Affect” is almost always a verb and “effect” is usually a noun. For example:
a. The pollen affects my allergies.
b. The spring weather has an effect on my allergies.
Tip: Effect never affects you.
- Egregious Use of the Comma
For whatever reason, Americans overuse commas. We use it to emphasize a pause in a sentence, to clear up ambiguity, or to list items in a sentence. When it comes to the listing of items, however, this is perhaps where we go crazy with the comma. The serial comma (as referred to in the U.S. which is also known as the Harvard Comma or the Oxford Comma in the U.K.) is frequently seen preceding the word “and” or “or” when listing items in a sentence.The idea of putting the comma before “and” or “or” in a list comes from the Chicago Manual Style. For example:
a. I bought milk, eggs, bacon, and orange juice at the store.
However, the AP Style Guide recommends against it.
b. I bought milk, eggs, bacon and orange juice at the store.So this one’s up to you to decide.
- Which vs That
“That” is a restrictive pronoun which is vital to the noun, whereas “which” introduces a relative clause. For example:
a. I no longer eat items that have refined sugar.
b. I lost 27 pounds, which was due to not eating refined sugar.
Tip: Did you know that 90% of the time you can eliminate the word “that” from any sentence and still have it make sense and be proper> Yep, you sure can.
- Impactful – is not a word and often used by marketers to emphasize something. Impact can be used as a noun or a transitive verb, as in:
a. This article had quite an impact on me. (noun).
b.This article really impacted how I write in the future. (transitive verb).
- Misuse of the semicolon
Personally, I think the semicolon should be abolished. I think almost any sentence can be broken into two sentences or make use of the em dash (which often demarcates a break in thought or a stronger similar statement.) However, there are some cases where you need a semicolon. The issue I have with it is that most people don’t know how to properly use a semicolon.
Proper use of a semicolon is when you want to form a bond between two sentences. You use the semicolon to connect two independent clauses and thus eliminate the need for a pause without using and, but, nor or yet. For example:
a. The mailman delivered my package today; he dropped it at the curb rather than at my door.
However, often times we see semicolons used in giant run-on sentences. Remember not to use them when you use conjunctions like and, or, but or yet. Use a comma instead. For some great examples on how not to be afraid of the semicolon, see this poster: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon
- Lay vs Lie
This is a common mistake made by many writers, including me. I always have to practice this one in my head before I write it out. Lay is a transitive verb that requires a subject and at least one or more objects in the sentence. The present tense is “lay”, while the past tense is “laid”. Lie is an intransitive verb which doesn’t need an object. Its present tense is “lie” and its past tense is “lay”. This is where it gets most confusing when the writer wants to use the past tense of “lie” — for example:
a. I lay on the bed as she gently rubbed my arm.
b. I laid the book on the nightstand.