37 essential rules of writing


From PR Daily:

When it comes to blogging for business, few things are more important than nailing the voice of your brand and bringing it to your ideal client. Few things other than grammar, that is. Whether you are a copywriter or a fiction writer, controlling the English language is of the utmost importance. For your reading pleasure, I have assembled 37 grammar rules/misused words—or common mistakes that virtually all of us make at some point or another.

1. Who/whom

To be precise, “who” is a nominative pronoun, while “whom” is an objective pronoun. In all practical considerations, though, that’s not a helpful definition. A good way to tell if you’re using the right one is to correlate “who” with “he/she” and “whom” with “her/him.” If the pronoun “he/she” works, “who” is the right choice. If it’s “her/him,” then it’s “whom.” See the examples:

“Who likes apples?” “He likes apples.”

“With whom does he live?” “He lives with her.”

2. Which/that

Again, to be technical, “that” is a restrictive pronoun. It is utterly vital to the noun to which it refers in order for the sentence to convey full meaning. For example: “I like movies that are sad.” If you removed the clause “that are sad,” the statement would be “I like movies,” which is indeed a sentence; however, it misses out on the full meaning of the original sentence, which is you like sad movies, not just any movies.

“Which,” on the other hand, is non-restrictive, which allows the addition of qualifiers. “I like ‘Titanic,’ which is a sad movie.” In this case, “which” qualifies the kind of movie “Titanic” is. “I like ‘Titanic’” is true according to the original meaning of the sentence, and the clause after “which” further defines “Titanic”; however, the sentence would be true and express the intent of the sentence (which is that you like “Titanic”) without the further qualification after “which.” When you use “which,” it’s like you’re giving bonus information about the sentence’s subject. In short: “that” restricts, “which” qualifies.

3. Continual/continuous

Yes, there is a difference. “Continual” means “always occurring.” So, “the clock struck continually on the hour.” If it’s a normal clock, that means once per hour. On the other hand, “The clock struck continuously” means that the clock never stops chiming and will probably be thrown out of the room in irritation.

4. Nor

A bit tricky. The best way to think about it is to think of “nor” following “neither” and “or” following “either.” So, “Neither the captain nor the first mate was happy when the gold doubloons turned out to be chocolate. Either the treasure map had been wrong or somebody had a bad sense of humor.”

5. Affect/effect

It’s a very common mistake, and the best way to remember it is that affect is nearly always a verb, while effect is usually a noun. “The sad movie affected me” verses “the sad movie had an effect on me.” To get more into the nitty-gritty of it, an affect (verb) causes an effect (noun).

6. Utilize

Do not utilize “utilize.” Is this technically a grammar mistake? No. But it’s entirely superfluous in writing as are most verbs that end in “-ize.” Yes, you can utilize a spoon, but why wouldn’t you just use it? (Note: there are some exceptions – in a lot of scientific writing conventions, for instance, “utilize” is standard. But about 97 percent of the time it’s really not necessary.)

7. Bring/take

You bring something to somebody/someplace. You take something away from somebody/someplace. Subjects take tribute to a monarch. The monarch says “bring tribute.”

8. Your/you’re/yore

Oh, boy, major pet peeve. “Your” is possessive. “Your car, your house, your apples, your computer, your baseball.” You’re is short for “you are.” As in “You’re driving me crazy when you confuse homophones.” Yore refers to the past, as in the “days of yore.” For example, “In the days of yore we bought candy at ye olde candy shoppe.”

9. It’s/its

Again, “it’s” is short for “it is.” “Its” is a possessive pronoun, just like “his” or “hers.” “It is an apple. Its leaf is green.” If you have trouble with this one, just try replacing the word with “it is.” If “it is” makes sense, use it’s. If it doesn’t, use its.

10. There/their/they’re

“There” refers to a place, or to the existence of something. “They live there. The house is there. The map is there. There is the street. There is a problem with all of these short sentences.” “Their” is possessive. If you are talking about more than one person and what they own, you need “their.” “Their house is nice. Their dog is black. Their street is wide. Their sentences are too short.” “They’re” is a contraction of “they are.” “They’re nice. They’re educated. They’re smart. Did you see those sentences? They’re too short.”

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