I probably know what you're thinking. You have that one friend who you've dubbed Grammar Queen, and you move on throughout life without a care in the world about your elementary school education. That is, until you have to write something for work, something for fun, or something you decided to explore after putting a long-held dream on the shelf far too long. Then, you turn to Grammarly. And though an extremely useful tool, it cannot replace the effort of a good writer!
As a story coach, I help people write, and sometimes I'm hired to write and rewrite for people. The biggest culprit to non-professional writing isn't vocabulary or inability to tell a story. It is so often grammar! I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not. If someone cannot be quite sure what you mean because of wrong word usage or poorly placed infinitives, they simply won't notice your work.
So, today I want to help the writers here with a few helpful tips!
1. Know basic sentence structure. When I was a school teacher, I had my students memorize a few basics, and I still swear by them! If you don't remember the types of sentence structure, and you're wanting to do some serious writing work, I highly recommend brushing up on these, remembering to use a variety within your writing!
Subject/Predicate, Action Verb
Subject/Predicate, Action Verb/Direct Object
Subject/Predicate, Action Verb/Adverb
Subject/Predicate, Linking Verb/Predicate Nominative
Subject/Predicate, Linking Verb/Predicate Adjective
Subject/Predicate, Action Verb/Indirect Object/Direct Object
2. Know subject/verb agreement. An extremely common error in writing and speaking alike is this, but there are 2 simple rules to live by. If you're looking to go deeper in your understanding, this article breaks it down beautifully.
RULE1: The subject and verb must agree in number: both must be singular, or both must be plural.
RULE2: The number of the subject (singular or plural) is not changed by words (or a phrase) that come in between the subject and the verb. Example: One of the boxes is open.
3. Know irregular verbs well. This may just be a pet peeve of mine, but I'm pretty sure I hear and read it often. When a verb does not follow the general rule of conjugation (think: to go) make sure you are familiar with all tenses before you write what sounds correct. For example, it is common to hear the phrase "had went" or "have came" in the American Midwest, and if you just had all the cringe-y feels that I had while writing it, you may want to move on to point four! But if that sounds right to you, it could be that it's common vernacular where you live, but professionally incorrect.
Here's a great place to brush up on correct conjugations in the English language for irregular verbs, or look one up if you're in doubt.
And for fun, there's a tool you can use to conjugate verbs in a variety of languages here.
4. Pronouns are people too. Okay, maybe not, but they often tell who we are speaking about and, boy, do we misuse them! An extremely common error is using the wrong case pronoun in everyday speech, so we should try to avoid it in writing! There are three cases–know them well.
And just like our subjects and verbs, they must agree in case with their antecedent.
For example, sometimes it's NOT you and I.
Correct: You and I went to the store.
Incorrect: The gift was presented to you and I.
In the second sentence, the word I is not used because it is not the subject of the sentence. The easiest way to remember which pronoun to use for proper grammar is by taking the other person out of the sentence. I would never say that a gift was presented to I. A gift is always presented to me. For in-depth Cliff Notes on pronouns, click here.
5. Punctuate well. This, I admit, is not a strength of mine. I hire a professional editor for my book-writing projects, but if you're doing Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or blog posts, simply brush up on your punctuation rules. Clarity comes when good structure is involved, and I will not claim that the Oxford comma has anything to do with it! Except I do and it does. :)
6. Read, edit, and reread, edit before posting! If it's a larger project for publication, this should go without saying! There should be many iterations of your book before you publish because playful curiosity, like I talked about in my last blog post, isn't going to get you your best product the first time. Your work of art is going to come out of the process!
I like to have a sitting where I write a few articles. Then, I schedule another sitting where I come back to reread them all, make any changes or corrections–because, let's face it, our internal autocorrect on our own writing is STRONG–and only then put them out for publication.
I'm sure there is a ton of writing advice out there, but these are a few of my TOP TIPS about paying grammar the respect it deserves when Grammarly can't do the job your brain can! Disclaimer: these are based off of best practices for an American audience, so if yours is primarily elsewhere, all may not apply!
What are your top writing tips or struggles? I'd love to hear from you!