Grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and spelling play important roles in making text easy to read and understand.
This is a key consideration in business where people want information fast and don’t have time to work out the meaning of an article, instruction or report if it isn’t clear at first reading. It is especially important when writing advertising, marketing or public relations material, as readers often give up if they cannot find what they want fast or don’t understand something.
The purpose of grammar
Grammar is the system of rules we use to provide a structure for writing. Words on their own mean nothing; it is the relationships between words that create the meaning. Grammar makes these relationships possible.
There are many rules of grammar and we apply lots of them without thinking every time we speak. It’s when we have to write something for business that they seem to worry us most.
Grammar and copywriting
While it’s not always possible to use correct grammar every time we speak – because conversations jump about, people interrupt us and a train of thought can develop when we’re in mid-sentence – it is a good idea to try to use correct grammar when writing.
However, that’s easier said than done, as language is always evolving and what is correct for one group of people may not be understood by another group. For example, some phrases or expressions used by young people could be incomprehensible to older people.
There are also instances where correct grammar can sound awkward, old-fashioned or unnatural. In these cases, look for a better, more natural way of writing what you want to say.
Judgement is needed to decide what works and is acceptable.
We don’t have room to explain all the rules of grammar on one page, so here’s an introduction to the essential elements. You probably know most of them already.
We’ve kept these definitions brief and simple deliberately; they are in no way comprehensive. If you want to know more, there are many good books on grammar that examine these and other elements in much greater detail, eg Improve Your Grammar is an easy-to-read guide.
Word – the basic grammatical unit. Types of word include nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
Phrase – words that work together as a unit but do not form a complete sentence.
Clause – a group of words that includes a subject and information about that subject, but does not form a complete sentence.
Sentence – the smallest complete unit that can stand alone and express a thought. A sentence can be just one word, eg a command, or can be made up of different phrases and clauses. A sentence can state a fact or idea, ask a question, demand or request something, or express feelings or emotion.
Paragraph – a single sentence or several grouped together, usually dealing with a single theme and separated from other paragraphs.
Noun – word denoting a person, place, thing or idea, eg brother, England, box, happiness.
Verb – word denoting an action or state, eg run, exist.
Adjective – word denoting an attribute of a noun, eg big, new.
Adverb – word denoting an attribute of a verb, adjective or other adverb, eg quickly, quietly.
Tense – the form of a verb indicating when action happens, eg I ran (past), I run (present), I will run (future).
Improving grammar is well worth the effort
These are the essential grammar tools for writing, although there are hundreds more elements and rules.
But don’t worry, you probably use many of them intuitively every day. And if you do want to improve your understanding of grammar, you can work at this whenever you want.
Any time you do spend learning about grammar will improve your ability as a copywriter.