8 Grammar Rules You Should Never Ignore
I don’t know if it’s the domination of texting lingo throughout the interwebs and offline, or if it is laziness from our instant gratification culture, but I believe grammar in society today is moving downhill quickly.
As a person with a writing degree, I take grammar, punctuation, and spelling seriously, even in trivial situations. I know it is usually overkill, but I believe grammar is not only a skill you learn but also a skill you sharpen by consistent practice.
I don’t believe it’s about perfection, and I will be the first person to admit that I don’t always get it right. However, I do believe making the effort towards grammatical correctness will help you significantly professionally and beyond.
Below are 8 grammar rules – often misused – you should never ignore.
Use The Oxford (Serial) Comma
Use it. I know it’s not proper AP style, but it’s proper everything else style. It is much more difficult to see groupings within lists if you don’t have the Oxford comma. In this example, you might assume wipes and toys are packaged together without the Oxford comma. With it, you can clearly tell they are not.
I packed the diaper bag with bottles, diapers, wipes, and toys.
I packed the diaper bag with bottles, diapers, wipes and toys.
Homonyms are words that sound similar but are different in meaning.
Improper use of homonyms is one of the easiest ways to tell when someone knows basic grammar and when someone doesn’t. Know the difference between these and use them properly. With enough practice, knowing when to use which word will come naturally to you.
Seen vs. Saw
Seen (v) – past tense of saw
Have you seen the new Hunger Games movie yet?
Yes, I saw it last weekend.
Yes, I seen it last weekend.
It’s vs. Its
It’s (it is) – never used for possession
It’s such a nice day today.
That bird lost it’s feathers.
Its – possession
That squirrel is running its little tail off.
Then vs. Than
Then (adv., idiom) – showing progression or time
She took the dog on a walk, then she took a nap.
Than (conjunction) – ranking or comparison
She’s faster than you’d think.
She’s faster then you’d think.
Effect vs. Affect
Effect (noun) – something that happens as the result of something else
Her 30-minute nap had no effect on her tiredness.
Her 30-minute nap had no affect on her tiredness.
Affect (verb) – an action or feeling
That song on the radio affected her deeply.
Your vs. You’re
Your (pronoun) – used to denote possession
May I borrow your book?
You’re (contraction) – means “you are”
Are you sure you’re going to be here on time?
Are you sure your going to be here on time?
They’re vs. Their vs. There
They’re (contraction) – means “they are”
They’re going to be here around six.
Their (pronoun) – used to denote possession
You should listen to their point of view.
There (adverb) – at a location or place
I think they left it over there.
Are vs. Our
Are (verb) – “to be”
Are you sure you’re okay?
Our (pronoun) – used to denote possession
Let’s meet at our usual place.
Let’s meet at are usual place.
Apostrophes can be tricky sometimes. One of the most common uses is in possession. For example:
Matt’s car is always clean.
Because the car is owned by Matt, you need an apostrophe.
What about nouns that end in an “s”? There are two options:
Chris’s favorite color is purple.
Chris’ favorite color is purple.
Both are correct, but stylistically I prefer the first option for consistency. If you get in the habit of adding an apostrophe and “s” in this instance, you will be more likely to do so all the time. Plus, it is one less rule to remember.
A good rule of thumb for nouns that end in “s” is you should never have to change the root word to add an apostrophe. One example I found at a Pizza Hut in Des Moines reads:
Des Moine’s favorite pizza.
This is obviously incorrect because the root word “Moines” is altered.
How to Improve Your Grammar
Okay, so now that you have the common rules many people forget to follow, how are going to ensure you follow them? Sure, it is nice to learn what you should do, but it is difficult to remember in practice. You don’t have to go at it alone. There are so many neat tools to help you along the way. Here are some easy tools that can help you improve your grammar:
- Spell check – Good old-fashioned spell check can assist you. Some of your word processing programs of choice have this built in, and are great for spelling errors, and basic grammar. Be warned, however, that they often miss more complex grammar errors, and when they do provide feedback, it can be vague.
- Grammarly – Grammarly is a grammar and spell check extension you can add to your browser, Microsoft® Office, OS X, or Windows to check nearly anything you type. I can’t say enough great things about Grammarly, especially because it’s free and incredibly robust. You don’t need to pair it with any other spell checker or app because it is that good. You can add words to the dictionary, see stats of your writing and error ratios, and so much more. I’ve become a better writer. I know you will, too. Seriously, download it now. (Or, if you’d prefer to learn more about Grammarly first, take a look at our review. it’s extensive, honest, and gives you a much better idea if it’s the right tool for you.)
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Do you have any rules to add to this list? What do you do to put proper grammar into practice?