Content 101: Common Grammar Goofs to be Avoided at All Costs

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This is another guest post from Diane Krause from Feelance Editor HQ. This is another relevant post especially with the Niche Site Challenge now cranking away. These pointers are great for those of us who are "grammatically challenged" and points us to some easy solutions to make our content better.

In a previous post, I discussed common copy problems that weaken your marketing or website copy. The items in that post were related to style and voice. In this post, we’re going to look at some grammar goofs that are very common in website copy, and even show up in printed marketing materials.
Not everyone is good at grammar, and that’s understandable. I’m good at grammar, but have severe deficiencies in other areas, such as anything technical. If you need a little help avoiding grammar goofs, perhaps this cheat sheet will help you polish your business copy and impress your prospective clients and customers.

it’s vs. its

This is my personal pet peeve, and one of the most common errors I see in print, although I understand why many people get the two words mixed up. First, let’s look at each one:

it’s is the contraction formed by combining the words “it” and “is”. So it’s = it is.
Proper usage: The weather man says it’s going to rain.
its is the possessive form of the pronoun it.  
Proper usage: The dog lost its collar when it escaped through the hole in the fence.
Since most possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe + s to the end of a word, it’s easy to assume the same is true for the pronoun it. But that’s not the case. This is one of those quirks of the English language, but a very important one to master.

their/they’re/there

their is a plural possessive pronoun
Proper usage: The students gathered up their belongings and left the room.
they’re is the contraction formed by combining the words “they” and “are”
Proper usage: After dinner, they’re going to the theater.
there indicates a location.
Proper usage: Paris? Why, I’d love to go there!

you’re vs. your

you’re is the contraction formed by combining the words “you” and “are”
Proper usage: You’re going to look silly if you use your when you mean you are.
your is the possessive pronoun indicating something belongs to you
Proper usage: Your coffee is served.

Dangling Participles

I won’t bore you with a long grammar lesson on participles. The quick explanation is, they’re words that modify other words, and usually end in –ing. When we fail to follow a participle (or participial phrase) with the right word, it’s left dangling, with nothing proper to modify. Here are some examples:

Example: Driving along the interstate, the mountain range came into view in the distance.

Why it’s wrong: Mountains don’t drive.
Fix #1: As I drove along the interstate, I could see the mountain range in the distance.
Fix #2: Driving along the interstate, I looked up to see the mountain range coming into view in the distance.

Example: With four GB of memory, we strongly recommend this computer for designers and heavy users.

Why it’s wrong: Assuming people are recommending the computer, people don’t come with four GB of memory.

The Fix: With four GB of memory, this computer is the one we recommend for designers and heavy users.
Example: Making a hasty retreat, the gun fell from his waistband.

Why it’s wrong: Guns don’t run.

Fix #1: As the robber made a hasty retreat, the gun fell from his waistband.
Fix #2: Making a hasty retreat, the robber carelessly let the gun fall from his waistband.

Conquering these common grammar goofs will give you a leg up on much of your competition!

Diane Krause is a writer and freelance editor. Her website, Freelance Editor HQ, is designed to connect independent authors with quality freelance editors, and help all writers write better and stronger.