By Brad Hem
These are interesting times for the English language. Writing is still an important way to communicate. In some ways, email and texting have made writing more important than it was 30+ years ago when business was done by phone. At the same time, they’ve brought a lax writing style that often neglects grammar and spelling.
In some ways that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with making communication more efficient. If shortening because to bc in a text accomplishes that so be it, but when it comes to writing for a wider audience or a more important audience, say your boss or a customer, it’s best to follow the rules. If you don’t like following the rules, just think of it as respecting your audience and trying not to annoy them. Below are six rules to follow to avoid driving your readers crazy.
Of is not a verb.
I can’t believe how often I still see this one, but it’s should/could/would have not should/could/would of. Do you want to lose all credibility with your reader immediately? Tell them what they should of done differently. Now if only I could get my kindergartner to stop saying it.
You can’t be the best of two.
The rules with comparative modifiers are straightforward. If you have three or more options, you can have a good, better and best. If you have two, you have good and better. In an either-or situation, there is a better choice, but not a best choice.
Know the difference between subjective and objective case.
I is subjective. Me is objective. I went to the store. My mom gave a cake to me. This can get a little tricky when there are multiple subjects or objects involved. We’ve all seen someone say “Jim and me think the best option is A” or “Send the deck to Jim and I.” If you’re not sure about what’s correct, take the other person out and leave the pronoun. You would never say “Send the deck to I.” At least, I hope you wouldn’t.
Its/it’s. There/their/they’re. You’re/your.
This is the subjective vs. objective case bonus round, and it hits a little close to home. When I was a rookie newspaper reporter, a headline on one of my stories used your when it should have used you’re. Mistakes happen, and I shrugged it off until I got a letter from an elementary school class telling me I ought to learn the difference. I didn’t even write the headline, but that letter stuck with me. I think of it every time I write either of those words.
Black is not different than Black is different from white. Generally, than follows a comparative adjective. “Sam is taller than Jan.” Different is an adjective but not a comparative adjective. If something is different, it’s just different. It’s especially not different then. Don’t get me started on that.
The difference between bring and take.
The easiest way to think about this one is you bring something with you, but you take something away. So bring the cake to the party, but take it with you when you leave.
Thanks for listening to my grammar rants. Believe it or not, I’ve softened on a lot of the strict lessons I learned back in high school. I don’t care if you split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. And you can even start sentences with conjunctions.
Now get off my lawn!