Does grammar matter?
In a world of text speak and emoticons, do correct punctuation, spelling and grammar matter? Lynne Truss, writer of Eats, Shoots and Leaves thinks so.
The title comes from a joke in which a panda enters a bar, eats a sandwich and then shoots a gun into the air. When the barman asks him what he’s doing, he throws down a book and growls: ‘This is a badly punctuated wildlife manual. Look me up.’ The barman opens the book, and under ‘PANDA’ it reads: ‘Large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’
So that brings us nicely to…
Incorrect punctuation, grammar or spelling can give the wrong message entirely. If you want to while away a few hours you’ll find the internet is burning with brilliant examples.
The moral of the story? If you make a mistake, your audience will focus upon that and will be distracted away from your important message.
You are judged on your prowess with the English language. It might not be fair but people could think that you lack attention to detail, don’t care about your subject matter or lack intelligence. When it comes to marketing and company image it’s vital to Get It Right.
Mistakes cost money. A survey conducted by Disruptive Communications asked a thousand UK consumers what they dislike about brands they follow on social media. Nearly half of respondents cited poor spelling and grammar. Such posts are seen to be lacking in credibility, reducing customer confidence which in turn damages the bottom line.
1. Alot/a lot. ‘Alot’ is not a word; use ‘a lot’.
2. Could/would/should. Many of people say ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’. ‘Could’ve’ is the contracted form of ‘could have’ rather than ‘could of’. The same applies to ‘would’ and ‘should’.
3. Effect/affect. ‘Effect’ (noun) refers to the result or cause: ‘She knew the bread had an effect on her digestive system.’ ‘Affect’ (verb) is the act of having an influence on something: ‘The weather affected their plans.’
4. Misplaced apostrophes. Apostrophes indicate possession and contracted words. They are never used to make a word a plural. Write ‘in the 1980s’ not ‘in the 1980’s’. ‘You’re’ is the contracted form of ‘you are’. ‘Your’ indicates belonging: ‘It is your ball.’
5. It’s/its. An apostrophe is only used to contract ‘it is’ and not to indicate possession.
6. Then/than. ‘Then’ indicates something following something else in time: ‘We will go there then.’ ‘Than’ is used in comparisons: ‘It costs more than that.’
7. There/their/they’re. Use ‘their’ to indicate possession: ‘It’s their ball.’ ‘They’re’ is the contracted form of ‘they are’: ‘They’re going to Paris.’ Use ‘there’ when it’s incorrect to use ‘they’re’ and ‘their’!
8. Referring to a brand as ‘they’. A business is singular and not plural. Therefore a business is ‘it’ and not ‘they’.
9. Semicolons. Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses that could stand on their own but are closely related: ‘Ring me tomorrow; I’ll talk to you then.’ Here each clause could be a sentence in itself, but it makes sense to join them together. If there is a conjunction between the two clauses like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘or’ use a comma instead.
10. Who/that. When describing an object use ‘that’; when referring to a person use ‘who’.
Can bad grammar ever be good?
Yes. When it comes to writing creative copy sometimes it’s good to break grammar, punctuation and spelling rules. It’s about knowing when it’s appropriate to break rules and when it’s important to stick to them. Remember the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign? It would be more correct to say: ‘Do you have any milk?’ but that’s dry and boring. ‘Got Milk?’ is catchy, memorable and achieves its aim – selling more milk.
As Pablo Picasso said: ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’