When I blog about grammar, I try not to get too technical with the grammatical terminology. I realize that nothing can propel a reader from a webpage faster than a discussion of intransitive verbs or gerunds. However, to gain a higher view of content, it’s critical to acknowledge that grammar rules do exist, and believe it or not, you already know many of them!
You’re Smarter Than You Think
Human beings actually know more about grammar than most are able to verbalize. Unless you’re a speech pathologist, linguist, English teacher, or grammar nerd, you probably can’t, off the top of your head, define the term “reflexive pronoun” and accurately describe how one is used in a sentence. You probably know that it’s proper to say, “She doesn’t think very highly of herself.” I’m sure everyone can agree it’s a grammatically sound sentence. We innately know it sounds right. But not everyone can describe the difference between a reflexive pronoun and a demonstrative pronoun. And even fewer people can actually verbalize the grammatical rules that apply to constructing sentences using proper pronouns. We all know these things, but we can’t explain why we do. We just do.
Too Cool for Rules
I’ve never been one to follow rules. But they do exist for a reason. (Notice the previous sentence began with a coordinating conjunction. My 8th grade English teacher wouldn’t accept a paper that contained such an atrocity.)
While I firmly believe the content of writing is paramount, bad grammar does, indeed, distract readers. If your content is riddled with run-on sentences and mismatched verb tenses, your reader is going to miss the point you’re trying to make, and you’ll lose credibility.
That’s why it’s critical that writers know that rules for writing exist, even if they choose not to follow them 100% of the time.
The Coordinating Conjunction
An ideal place to begin making sense of these rules, and to become consciously aware of them, is with the coordinating conjunction. There are seven: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. You can easily remember them using the acronym FANBOYS.
Coordinating conjunctions connect equals. They can join single words or groups of words, but they always join similar elements.
A coordinating conjunction can…
Connect two equal subjects:
The elf and the gypsy skipped to the masquerade ball.
Connect two equal objects:
Santa Claus sipped the whiskey and the scotch.
Connect two phrases:
He appeared a moment later looking humiliated yet appearing rather unperturbed.
*However, the most important thing coordinating conjunctions do is…
Connect two independent clauses:
Buying gifts can be a real treat, or it can be an unpleasant debacle.
When connecting two independent clauses (which are clauses that can stand alone as complete sentences), it’s crucial that a comma is inserted before the coordinating conjunction; otherwise you’re left with a run-on sentence.
Let’s take a closer look at sentence errors involving the coordinating conjunction using my previous compound sentence example:
Error: Buying gifts can be a real treat or it can be an unpleasant debacle.
Explanation: Run-on. A comma needs to separate two independent clauses.
Fix: Add a comma, use a semicolon, or create two separate sentences.
Error: Buying gifts can be a real treat, or an unpleasant debacle.
Explanation: The comma isn’t needed because there is no second subject.
Fix: Buying gifts can be a real treat or an unpleasant debacle.
Run-on sentences, especially in internet writing, cause problems because they are long, confusing, and hard to comprehend. Before I became an editor for CEM, a web-based content writing service, I was guilty of writing super long sentences. I quickly learned that less is more when it comes to writing for the web.
Thou Shall Not Blather
Internet writers should not ramble, nor should they create overly verbose or wordy prose. We like to get to the point, and do it using as few words as we possibly can. Read my previous blogs about eliminating weak verbs and understanding prepositions for more tips on how to cut your word count in ways that truly count.
Your content, grammar and all, is a reflection of you, your business, or your agency. If your head is spinning after making it through this blog, rest assured knowing that CEM employs editors (and writers) who are grammar savvy. We love this stuff. It’s what we do. And we’re ready to write for you.