New Year, new you – 5 bad grammar habits to ditch now

09/01/2018
Written by Denny

January. It’s that time of the year when we dig out our trainers, learn a new skill and atone for our excessive mince pie consumption.

But between our marathons, sobriety and sudden uptake of trombone lessons, we should also take the time to reflect on our writing – to ensure that it’s accurate all year round.

Below, we’ve listed some common culprits. Let the detox begin…

 

Dangling participles

It sounds like something you hang on your Christmas tree, but a dangling participle doesn’t show your grammar in the best light. 

Here’s an example:  

Set up in 1850, traditional values are important to our business.

What’s wrong with that sentence? Well, ‘traditional values’ form the subject of the sentence. But they weren’t ‘set up in 1850’; the business was. To make sense, the sentence needs to be rewritten as follows so that the subject matches the preceding clause:

Set up in 1850, our business prides itself on traditional values.

Click here for more confusing – and amusing – examples of ‘danglers’.

Vague pronouns

'My colleague told his boss that he could no longer work there.'

What is going on here? Is the colleague handing in his notice? Or is he firing his boss? We can’t be sure who ‘he’ refers to.

To prevent your reader from second-guessing, watch out for this kind of ambiguity.

Misused apostrophes

The erroneous apostrophe is a familiar faux pas – and one that draws a collective sigh from all who uphold its proper usage. You may think you’ll never be the one to use a ‘you're’ when it should be ‘your’ or an ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’, but apostrophes can crop up in all sorts of unexpected places (as this book will attest).

One mistake we’ve seen over the years relates to… years.

If you’re talking about the 1980s in general, for instance, there’s no need to add an apostrophe (i.e. 1980’s). If, however, you want to simply refer to the eighties, you can use an apostrophe before the decade to indicate the contraction (i.e. the ’80s).

And for those of you sprucing up your CVs this new year, it’s: ‘I have five years’ experience.’ You need an apostrophe there because the experience ‘belongs’ to the years.

Unchecked homophones

We’ve already blogged about the dangers of homophones (those sneaky words that sound the same, but have different spelling and meanings). It’s easy to miss these when you’re writing, especially if you’re hoping that spell-check will pick up on them (don’t count on it!).

Here are a few ones to watch out for:

Avoid ink spillages! Use your stationery when your writing desk is stationary.

The principle aim was to appoint the best principal for the school.

Grammar mistakes can have a long-lasting effect. They can affect your business.

He led today’s meeting on lead piping.

Your glasses really complement your face. And that’s a compliment!

Passive voice

At the start of the new year we all look to get more active. Where appropriate, that should apply to your writing too. 

Compare the following:

1) All sales targets were achieved last year.

2) We achieved all sales targets last year.

The first example uses the passive voice, whereas the second uses the active.

Try to use more of the active voice in your writing to make impactful and direct statements.

If you need help identifying the passive voice, there’s a simple trick involving zombies.

What other grammar or proofreading issues are you hoping to tackle this year? Do you want us to feature anything particular on our blog? Drop us a line or send us a tweet. We’d love to hear from you.