You’re in the zone, churning out thousands of words every hour, your creativity is one the loose, you feel better about your work than ever… and then, bam! You look at your document and it’s full of those annoying red and green lines that warn you that your grammar was not so wonderful during this process after all.
Another scenario: you’re writing, re-writing and polishing one sentence for ages. Finally, you get to a final result that you love, only to see that your grammar checker underscored the entire thing. What do you do? Ignore grammar rules and go with it or succumb to the pressure of Grammar Gods and rewrite your sentence one more time?
As a content creator, these situations probably happen to you all the time. That’s why we’re bringing you some of the most common grammar rules that you can and should break if you want to express yourself in the most authentic way.
1. Evil Sentence-Ending Prepositions
If you had the typical English professor at school, ending sentences with a preposition like ‘Who did you come with?’ or the dreaded ‘Where to?’ was one of the deadly sins of grammar. However, in reality, we use these structures all the time and they’re anything but unnatural and weird-sounding.
What really is awkward-sounding, on the other hand, is doing everything in your power to avoid the preposition at the end of the sentence, which might leave your readers more confused than with the other solution.
If it sounds like something that would be completely normal and accepted in everyday speech, don’t be afraid to use it in your texts as well.
2. Splitting Infinitives
Another deadly sin of grammar is to happily split an infinitive, usually with an adverb (see what we did there?). However, just like the preposition rule, some of the most important slogans and pieces of content we know bravely ignored this rule and reaped the benefits.
A famous example is “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Would “to go boldly” have the capacity to achieve the same effect? Not really.
This is a general guideline you can use to determine whether it’s worth it to split the infinitive in your content. If it really improves the way your text flows or simply makes it better, why not?
3. Beginning a Sentence with a Conjunction
Grammar says that we should always start sentences with full-blown words like nouns. There are some questionable exceptions – like verbs, adjectives and adverbs – but any English professor would tell you that starting a sentence with a conjunction is a big no-no.
“Never start your sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’ is another quasi golden rule of high school English. Still, many students (and later, adults) use this construction because it’s perfectly normal to hear in spoken language. So, why avoid it?”, says Angela Baker, a writer at Subjecto.
4. Avoid the First Person Pronoun
A large portion of grammar rules are connected to style and register: what’s acceptable in one form of writing is completely unacceptable in another. For example, the journalist registry has absolutely no problem with a title like ‘Man dies in car accident’, and legalese doesn’t have an issue with 5 passive constructions in one sentence.
In most formal and semi-formal styles, it’s not recommended to write in the first person to avoid subjectivity and increase factuality. However, in content creation, it’s almost always the opposite.
When you’re writing in-depth content that aims to engage your readers as much as possible, writing from your own perspective is the best way to go. Of course, most of the time you’ll be talking about facts, stats and objective arguments, but nothing paints a better picture than speaking (and writing) from your own perspective. This allows readers to humanize you as the author and connect to the content more easily.
5. Avoid Passive Constructions
Any style guide or grammar rulebook will tell you that there’s a handful of situations where a passive construction is unavoidable. In all other cases, it’s recommended that each passive structure is replaced with an active one.
However, this is not a one-size-fits-all rule that should be blindly followed. It’s true that you should avoid passives when possible, but when a passive construction sounds and feels better than an active one, you shouldn’t avoid using it.
Here are some of the tools that you can use to check how much passive voice you’re using or services that can help you use the passive only when necessary: Grammarly (a grammar checker that, among other things, checks for passive frequency), Studyker (essay writing website with great grammar resources), WriteScout (expert academic assistance website) or ProWritingAid (a tool similar to Grammarly).
6. Do Not Use Contractions
Contractions like don’t, won’t, didn’t and others are highly unrecommended in school essays and formal writing, and you will often find these constructions crossed out if you submit a paper with lots of these structures.
However, in content creation for the web, contractions are more than welcome – they mimic natural speech and make the reader feel more connected to the article. When you use contractions, a reader will be kind of listening to you speak, and not just reading what you wrote. This can foster a deeper connection and a higher level of engagement.
7. Avoid Short Paragraphs
I remember submitting college essays where I put only one sentence as a standalone paragraph.
So that it’s accentuated and clearly visible. I also remember seeing a lot of red lines and scribbles saying something like: A single sentence can’t form an entire paragraph!
In web content writing, this is very welcome, but it’s a big no-no in formal writing and grammar.
Interestingly, one-sentence paragraphs have become one of the main content creation trends in recent years. You can see famous bloggers like Neil Patel using them all the time, which makes their content more readable and easy to comprehend. So definitely don’t be scared to break grammar rules surrounding paragraph size.
8. Mind the Punctuation
In grammar, every punctuation mark has its purpose. And while many have a variety of different contexts where they are used, grammar also prescribes when certain ones should be replaced with others.
Luckily, in content creation, you can play around with punctuation to make your texts flow better. You can do “this” or even this – to explain something – and give your content more dynamic appeal.
9. Avoid Elliptical Sentences
Dictionary.com defines elliptical sentences as “expressed with extreme or excessive economy; relieved of irrelevant matter” and “tending to be ambiguous, cryptic, or obscure”. In content creation, even though these sentences are frowned upon by proper grammar, you can achieve a hint of mysteriousness and spark interest among your readers.
Like this. Just like other forms of non-grammar-friendly structures, they look interesting in a text because they are natural in speech, but unusual in written language. Play around. Don’t refrain. Ellipse. It rules.
Grammar rules are something you should abide by when you want to present a clear, correct text to your audience; but as soon as they start endangering your creativity, power of expression or the mere readability of your content, it’s time to consider ditching them.