Want to know the fastest way to a copywriter’s heart? Unsurprisingly, it’s your grammar competency (but coffee doesn’t hurt your chances). If you’re looking to sharpen your professionalism, learning how to write well can separate you from the pack and might even score you a date with a grammar nerd.
Written-language skills are just that: skills. Like any other, they can be studied and improved to your benefit.
However, grammar is a double-edged sword. The better you become, the more pet peeves you acquire. You’ll start to catch your friends and family in their misspellings, misplaced commas, their penchants for em dashes (guilty as charged) and unnecessary contractions.
But here’s the rub: all those mistakes are noticeable, even to the untrained eye (and ear). These small gaffes paint a voice of unintelligence that, let’s face it, probably won’t land you any Netflix n’ Chill sessions or job interviews.
So, let’s get to work. There are plenty of grammar mistakes that plague the English language from Facebook to LinkedIn and emails alike, but here are the four that really get under our skin:
- They’re vs. Their vs. There // You’re vs. Your // It’s vs Its
We hope you like fruit; here’s the lowest-hanging one of all.
This is arguably the most notorious grammar mistake of the modern age: contractions and their possessive homonyms. These errors strike even the best of writers on their worst days, so don’t feel alone.
Let’s break these down one by one, so you never feel dumb in an email or tweet again:
They’re = a contraction of “they are”; They’re going to the store later.
Their = referring to something owned by a group of people; Their food is the best.
There = referring to a place; Whatever you do, don’t look over there.
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You’re = a contraction of “you are”; You’re a feisty French philanthropist.
Your = referring to something owned by someone; Your shoes look horrendous. Were they on sale?
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It’s = a contraction of “it is”; It’s raining lizards and chinchillas outside.
Its = referring to possession; I’ll take that puppy and all its siblings.
Quick tip: If it has an apostrophe and isn’t a noun, it’s likely a contraction.
Than vs. Then
What’s wrong with this sentence?
My lunch was better then yours.
*cringe* This one is right at the top of our personal list. Lucky for you, this one is easy.
Than = a conjunction used to make comparisons; My cat is way fatter than yours.
Then = an adverb that denotes a point in time; We watched some anime, then we cuddled.
Many vs. Much
This is one of the more unassuming mistakes in the grammar world. People often hear this mistake as they say it, but don’t know the reason for its cacophony.
Read these sentences out loud. Do they sound weird to you?
How much cars do we have in the garage? We don’t have many room for another.
Those sound really caveman-y for a reason. “Many” refers to items that are physically countable, like M&Ms, dogs, and buildings, while “much” refers to items that aren’t physically countable, like water, oxygen, and sunlight.
Similar to the last item, errors of passive voice fly a little under the radar. There’s nothing inherently incorrect about sentences with passive voice, but they’re weak and don’t convey messages properly (particularly in advertising).
Here’s an example:
The ball was chased down the hill by Chuni.
And here’s its active voice correction:Chuni chased the ball down the hill.
Literature and linguists have extensive breakdowns of how/why this error haunts writers everywhere, but the cheat code for active voice sentence structure is this: the subject acts upon its verb. In passive voice, the subject is the recipient of a verb’s action.Caveat: passive voice is fine to use, especially if there’s really no other way to write a sentence. All things in moderation, people.
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The full list of common grammar mistakes is like a bad college relationship—unnecessarily long, emotionally draining and may cause numbness in your lower extremities. Start with these four and you’ll be well on your way as an expert American English user (if that even exists).
For marketing tips, agency resources and way too many dog pictures, contact The James Agency. We’re always hungry to talk with people and address they’re their advertising needs.