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Copywriting: The Big Grammar Argument

If there’s one subject that seems to divide copywriters more than any other, it is the argument about whether good grammar is important or not.

Some copywriters are obviously careful to check their work for grammar and spelling mistakes. Others clearly don’t bother. It always amazes me when I read something by a successful copywriter and find it contains several fifth-grade errors.

If you query one of these writers, you are likely to get a response like:

· “My clients don’t mind as long as I make them money, so why should I mind?”
· “It’s the message that’s important, not the grammar.”
· “Successful direct response copywriting is not about correct grammar and spelling.”

So what IS copywriting about? Well, surely it’s about COMMUNICATING. About getting your message across. If you aren’t getting your message across, you may as well quit.

And what do you use to communicate? Your one TOOL of communication – LANGUAGE. Grammar is the just the “instruction book” that tells you how to use the tool properly.

So any wrong use of language means another barrier to communication – i.e. it stops you getting your point across clearly.

It means the reader has to do a double-take, and go back and re-read to see what that last bit was about. The reader may not even realize it was bad grammar, just be unsure what you meant.

Note - by “wrong use of language”, I mean not just grammar in the narrow sense, but also the wrong use of one word instead of another.

BEWARE – YOU CANNOT RELY ON YOUR SPELL-CHECKER FOR THIS. The spell-checker will only pick on a word if it doesn’t exist. It cannot tell you what word you really meant to use.

Here are ten of the most common mistakes. Do you make them?

· Its = belonging to it (possessive) “This is an old car, its tyres are unsafe”, versus It’s = it is (abbreviation): “It’s an old car, isn’t it?”

· Your = belonging to you (possessive): “Your house is very nice”, versus You’re = you are (abbreviation): “You’re a very clever person”.

· Their = belonging to them (possessive) “The neighbors have put their house up for sale”, versus There = in that place (adverb): “Put it there in the corner” or “There are a lot of thieves about.”

· Where? = in what place? (question adverb) “Where did I put my pen?” or “I told you where to find it”, versus Were = part of the verb “to be”: “You were very good in that play.” “Things were better in the old days.”

· Whose = belonging to whom (possessive form of “who”): “Whose is this pen?” or “The person whose pen this is should claim it”, versus Who’s = who is, or who has (abbreviation): “Who’s the best at tennis? (who is)” or “Who’s taken my pen? (who has)”

· Lose = misplace, be deprived of: “If you invest in that you’ll lose your money” “I want to lose weight”, versus Loose = not tight: “The shelf fell down because the screw was loose.”

· Affect (verb) = have an effect (noun) on. “The new rules don’t affect me at all.” but “My anger had no effect on him.” This is especially confusing because “effect” CAN also be a verb, but in that case it means “bring about”: “The new manager intends to effect a major restructuring.” DON’T use it when you mean “affect”.

· To (preposition) – indicates “in the direction of” or “towards”: “I didn’t go to work today” and introduces the infinitive form of the verb: “I intend to stop drinking”, versus Too (adverb) = excessively: “This sentence is much too long.” (Of course, there is also the number two, but this is isn’t confused quite so often.)

· Than (conjunction) indicates a comparison: “Alaska is colder than California”, versus Then (adverb) = “at that time”: “That was then, this is now.”

· Using apostrophe ‘s’ for plurals. DON’T! This is one of the most common mistakes and you see it everywhere – but it’s WRONG. You can say “This is my son’s jacket” i.e. the jacket belonging to my son (singular) but “These are my sons George and David.”

There are plenty more. But each time you get one of these wrong, it gives the wrong meaning. So your copywriting message isn’t clear any more.

Not to mention the fact that, for somebody who is supposed to be a master of words, you’re not giving a very good impression!

So which side of the argument are YOU on? Are you one of those who consider it really doesn’t matter as long as the money comes in? Or do you believe the copywriter should strive for the highest possible standards?

If the latter, it seems you are in the minority!

Submitted by:

Elaine Berry

Elaine Berry is the owner of Bizwrite, the only one-stop shop for help and tuition on all aspects of writing – copywriting, article writing, ghostwriting and proofreading. Visit http://www.bizwrite.co.uk for a FREE 12-part e-course on copywriting!




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