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The Importance of Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Capitalization

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons. “Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

From “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” – by Lynn Truss

An interesting and perhaps unanticipated result of the growth in social media for marketing is an increased need for good writing skills. Blogs, drip marketing, opt-in electronic newsletters, and other “new media” require both useful content and good writing to attract and keep readers. The elements of good writing are simple: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. By mastering the rules and conventions, you will make your writing easier to understand and more enjoyable to your readers.

Grammar Grammar explains the forms and structure of words (called morphology) and how they are arranged in sentences (called syntax). In other words, grammar provides the rules for common use of both spoken and written language so we can more easily understand each other.

The building blocks of grammar are the eight parts of speech:

Verbs express actions, events, or states of being.

Nouns name a person, animal, place, thing, or abstract idea.

Pronouns take the place of nouns or another pronoun.

Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns by describing, identifying, or quantifying them. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun which it modifies.

Adverbs modify a verb, adjective, another adverb, a phrase, or a clause and indicate manner, time, place, cause, or degree. Adverbs can be recognized because they answer the question how, when, where, or how much. Adverbs often end in ly.

Prepositions link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence and usually indicate a relationship of time, space, or logic.

Conjunctions link words, phrases, and clauses.

Interjections are added to a sentence to convey emotion and are usually followed by an exclamation point.

Every complete sentence has two parts: a subject (who or what the sentence is about) and a predicate (what the subject is doing). The subject is a noun or a pronoun; the predicate is a verb. To identify the subject of a sentence, find the verb and ask who or what. The answer is the subject.

Modifiers, phrases, and clauses add information about the subject and predicate and make the writing more interesting and clear. A single word acting as an adjective or adverb is called a modifier; two or more words without a subject and predicate and acting as an adjective or adverb is called a phrase; and two or more words acting as an adjective or adverb and having a subject and predicate is a clause.

Whether single words, phrases, or clauses, modifiers should appear close to the word or words they modify, especially if the reader might mistake what is being modified. Here is an example of a misplaced modifier:

John could read the sign easily written in French.

In this example, it is unclear whether the adverb easily is meant to modify the way John reads the sign or how it is written. By moving the modifier closer to the word it is modifying, the meaning becomes clear:

John could easily read the sign written in French.

Clauses are the basic building blocks of sentences. When a sentence is formed by a single clause, it is known as a simple sentence. Simple sentences are the most common type for spoken language, but can make writing seem childish. Simple sentences can be made more interesting and informative by adding modifiers and can be effective for attracting the reader’s attention when used sparingly.

Two or more clauses that are joined by a conjunction such as and, but, and, or form a compound sentence. Compound sentences create balance or contrast between thoughts, ideas, or information of equal importance:

Simple sentences: Molly and Emily live near each other. They are best friends.

Compound sentence: Molly and Emily live near each other, and they are best friends.

A complex sentence contains an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses that are not equal. A complex sentence is different from a simple sentence or compound sentence because it develops a central idea, provides background information, and clearly identifies the most important thought.

Complex sentence: Even if Molly and Emily did not live near each other, they would still be best friends due to their many common interests.

Improve your writing by varying the types of sentences you use. To grab a reader’s attention, use a short, simple sentence. To emphasize balance and equal thoughts, use a compound sentence. To show the relationship between different information, use a complex sentence.

Spelling The availability of spell checkers in word processing programs greatly reduces the likelihood of spelling errors – except for homonyms. A homonym is a word that is pronounced the same as another, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

Here are some examples of homonyms: • affect (to have an influence on), effect (a result). Affect is generally used as a verb (to affect) while effect is generally used as a noun (the effect). • capital (seat of government) and capitol (a building) • lie (recline) and lye (used in making soap) • principal (head of school) and principle (a truth, law, rule, or standard) • scene (setting) and seen (past participle of see) • whine (complain) and wine (an alcoholic drink)

Punctuation Punctuation helps convey the precise meaning of a sentence – and in fact can even change the meaning, as in this well-known example:

A woman, without her man, is nothing. A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Here is a brief description of how punctuation is used: • A comma tells the reader to pause and assimilate information. They are also used to separate the items in a series. • A semi-colon links independent clauses that are closely related in meaning when they are not linked by a conjunction. • A colon introduces a list or a summation. It can also be used to link an idea that has been introduced in an independent clause. End punctuation – period, question mark, and exclamation mark – denotes the end of a sentence. Parentheses enclose words that are not directly related to the main thought of the sentence but provide important information, or to provide examples. • A dash signals a sudden change of thought or break in a sentence. Dashes can also be used in place of parentheses to emphasize information. Quotation marks indicate direct speech. All punctuation marks are enclosed within the quotation marks except for semi-colons, colons, and question marks when they are not part of the quotation. • An apostrophe indicates that letters are missing from a contraction, or shows possession (i.e., that one thing belongs to another). The word (its) spelled without an apostrophe is a possessive; spelled with an apostrophe (it’s) is a contraction of it is. Similarly, whose is a possessive pronoun, and who’s is a contraction of who is. Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of numbers or letters (the 1990s, a box of PCs).

Capitalization Like punctuation, capitalization helps convey information. The first word of every sentence is capitalized, signaling that a new sentence has begun. Proper nouns – the name of a particular person, place, or thing – are capitalized to indicate uniqueness. However, it is not correct to use capitalization merely to make a word look or seem important.

The Importance of Grammar Grammar is important because it provides information that helps the reader’s comprehension. It is the structure that conveys precise meaning from the writer to the audience. Eliminate grammatical errors from your writing, and reward your readers with clear communication. Let us know if we can help. Please call us at 781.337.0002 or via e-mail for an appointment.

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