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Best Tips and Resources to Improve Your Grammar
Grammar is something that a lot of writers feel they either can grasp, or they can't. The rules are so obtuse that it's hard to understand whether you're ever getting it right or not.
If you're the kind of person who struggles with their grammar, fear not. It's actually a lot easier to spot bad grammar in your writing than you'd think.
Use these tips to stay on the look out for common problems, and use the resources below to help you on your way.
Commas and Semi Colons
Commas are something that trip a lot of writers up, but it's a lot easier than you think to handle them. Read back through your writing out loud. Find the spot where you needed to stop and take a breath. If it's just a short pause, that's where your comma can go.
Semi colons wok in a similar way. When you're reading, you may find a spot where you feel a longer break is needed, but you don't want a full stop. Put your semi colon in there. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a good way of finding where your commas should go without having to worry too hard about it.
Check Your Dashes and Hyphens
The difference between a dash and a hyphen is that a dash sets off a clause, while a hyphen joins two words together.
When using dashes, make sure that the parts of the sentence before and after your clause would make sense without it. For example, 'She liked to work on crafts - like needlepoint - when she was waiting at the bus stop' would work without the clause.
Try to Avoid Split Infinitives
You may have heard that you must avoid split infinitives at all costs, but that is no longer the case. Sometimes, they actually work well.
Imagine this well known quote from Star Trek: 'To boldly go where no man has gone before.' 'Boldly' splits the infinitive, but the sentence still works.
If you can, try not to use them in your writing. If you can't get around one though, it may be better to leave it in place.
Avoid the Passive Voice
If your writing feels lifeless and uninteresting, it's probably because you've relied too heavily on the passive voice.
Go back and read what you've written. If things are just happening, rather than something or someone putting them into motion, then you'll need to tinker with your sentences.
For example, consider the sentence: 'The festival was first held in 1998.' It's a dull and lifeless way of talking about what should be an exciting event. Instead, trying switching it up a bit. 'The people of the village held their first festival in 1998' is much more dynamic and interesting.
Identify Acronyms where Appropriate
Some guides will say that when you introduce an acronym in your writing, you should always identify what it stands for the first time you use it. A lot of the time this is good advice, but it's not always needed.
For example, try this sentence: 'There are many great road trips one can take in the USA (United States of America).' 'USA' is an acronym, but it's one that most people are familiar with. In this case giving the full name afterwards is somewhat redundant.
Make Your References Clear
If you refer to 'this theory' or 'that law', the reader will have to pause for a moment to work out exactly what you're referring to.
Instead of making them do the work, make it clear what you're referring to. For example, 'The theory of relativity' or 'the law around child protection' make much more sense.
Never Refer to People as 'That'
You may not think you do this, but it's probably been sneaking into your writing without you knowing it.
A good example is the line 'Neil Armstrong was the first man that walked on the moon.' This is poor because Neil Armstrong is a person, and using 'that' diminishes him. Instead, the sentence should read 'Neil Armstrong was the first man who walked on the moon.' Use 'who' or 'whom' instead of 'that' when you're speaking about a person.
Italics and Underlines
As a rule, you can use italics or underlines in your writing, but never both. This comes from an old printing rule, where underlining certain words meant you wanted them to be printed in italics. If you underlined words in italics, you were saying you wanted the words taken out of italics.
Even though that isn't the case today, having both can be really confusing for the reader.
Watch your Words
The meaning of words changes all the time.
For example, the word 'astonish' no longer means to turn someone into stone. When you're writing, make sure you're clear on what the words you're using mean. If you're not sure, look them up.
The wrong word in the wrong sentence can make what should be an easy read very confusing.
Useful Grammar Resources:
- Economist Style Guide: Use this style guide to see how the experts structure their writing and engage their readers.
- HyperGrammar: This online course, developed by professionals, will help you get to grips with grammar in a meaningful way.
- Common Errors in English Usage: You can search through this site if you're stuck on a word or phrase and make sure your usage is correct.
- Grammar Book: This site features real life examples and quizzes to help strengthen your grammar knowledge.
Now you have these tools under your belt, you should find that grammar is no longer a maze to be negotiated. In fact, it will now be your friend.
About the Author
Mary Walton is an online writer and editor. Read her latest blog post "Do We Need Art In Our Lives" on educational blog Simple Grad.