I’ve stressed the importance of proper spelling and grammar over and over, for marketing copy. Nothing compromises trust and credibility like a blatant mistake with the English language. When you’re writing for yourself, this may just mean that readers put your work down or click away. When you’re writing about your business, this can mean financial loss.
It’s time to get specific. Here are six grammar tips to keep your readers engaged from point A to point B:
There, Their, and They’re
It’s time to learn the difference.
- There refers to a place, whether concrete or abstract. It is also used to acknowledge the existence of something. For example: There is a music store downtown. Or: The pencil is over there on the desk.
- Their is a possessive adjective, indicating that a particular noun belongs to them. For example: Their books are still on the shelf.
- They’re is a contraction between they and are. For example: They’re planning a trip to Florida.
That, Which, and Who
They’re not interchangeable. Here’s the deal. If you can pull a clause out of a sentence, use which. If the clause is essential to the meaning, use that. For example: Can you bring me the pencil that I use to take notes? Or: The pencil, which I use to take notes, is over there. You can pull the “which” clause out of the second example, and it would still make sense. The same can’t be said for the first sentence.
Also, don’t use that when you mean who. Any time you’re referring to a person, it’s who. Wrong: Your teacher is the person that grades your papers. Right: Your teacher is the person who grades your papers.
Use Numbers Correctly
According to AP Style (a good source for marketers and bloggers to follow), numbers lower than ten should be spelled. Ten and above should be used as numerals, unless they are starting a sentence. Ages, addresses, distances and dimensions are exceptions to this.
Keep Your Sentence In Agreement
A team is an it. A class is an it. Players are a they. Students are a they. For example: The team of programmers completed the project. It worked all night to finish on time. Or: The programmers completed the project. They worked all night to finish on time.
Hyphenate Your Modifiers
Any time you modify a noun with more than one word, you’ll need to use a hyphen. For example: My 12-year-old daughter already writes well. Or: His application for full-time work has gone largely unnoticed. Daughter and work are the nouns being modified.
Affect and Effect
Alright, here’s one of the great head scratchers of the English language. It’s actually a little more straightforward than you may realize. Affect is typically a verb. For example: Grammar tips affect better writing. Effect is largely a noun. The effect of following grammar tips is better writing. It does get more complicated than this in places, but for the most part, this holds true.
What other grammatical errors have you seen in marketing copy?
Matt Brennan is a Chicago-area marketing writer and copy editor. He is also the author of Write Right-Sell Now.
Thanks, Clarissa, for the great comment. I’ve chekecd out the Language Log link and enjoyed reading about their findings. I agree that what seem to be changes in language usage may not have a direct connection with ‘outsiders’ English. Is someone who speaks English as a second language an ‘outsider’ to English? English has been widespread around the world for quite a long time. I am sure there are many factors at work affecting how ‘correct’ it sounds to me. Exposure to the internet has certainly allowed me to read and hear many more Englishes than I did thirty years ago. Some of these expressions or collocations may have been around for a few hundred years, for example, but I had never heard it. I’ll see if I can check out a copy of ‘The Fight for English.’