I’m making a case against bad grammar.
Any company truly engaged in content marketing has a blog, because blogs are proven to attract customers. When done right, blog posts are composed of phrases that pay: 57% of companies surveyed by HubSpot have acquired a customer through a company blog.
And the more a company contributes to its blog, the more new customers it will acquire. (An impressive stat, also care of HubSpot: 78% of blog users who publish daily acquire a customer through their blog.) It’s no wonder that companies value blogs more than any other media channel.
The basic theory behind content marketing is extremely simple (though certainly not always easy to execute): people are attracted to valuable, well-written, compelling, and readable content. But then grammar enters the picture, and things get a little messy: I can come across a written piece that’s creative, entertaining, funny, or knowledgeable (sometimes I’ll find a piece that is all of these things), but if it’s plagued with grammatical errors, I stop reading it.
To be clear: I’m not talking stuffiness and formality here. I use contractions; I begin sentences with “and” and “but”; I like writing that is conversational and casual. What I am talking about are affronts to grammar: words or writing practices that are simply wrong but nevertheless elbow their way past style manuals and infiltrate articles, posts, and copy.
I make mistakes in my writing, and I think it’s nearly impossible to be a pristine, infallible, and immaculate wielder of words, free and clear of any and all grammatical gaffes. But consistent use of bad grammar erodes credibility. It makes content less readable. It causes people to focus on errors rather than paying attention to the message.
I once read a post that promised me takeaways from the social media campaign of a major brand, but the only thing I took away was a new appreciation for Grammar Nazis.
I’m anticipating an objection, and I think it would sound something like this:
“Grammar rules are overly finicky, perplexing, and infinite! Different style manuals say different things! If grammar nerds can’t even agree, how am I supposed to know what to do?!”
This is all true, but, I think writers can easily understand and readily incorporate certain grammar practices.
Here are five grammar mistakes guilty of crushing content credibility:
- Using the word “literally” incorrectly
When people say something like, “That was so funny, I literally died,” I assume that they were unable to catch their breath in between hearty chortles and are now recapping their death for me from beyond the grave.
Literally means actually or exactly. Oftentimes, when people use literally they really mean figuratively.
Incorrect use of the word “literally” figuratively causes smoke to come out of my ears, but it literally causes me to shake my head in frustration.
Exhibit A: This comic from the always hilarious The Oatmeal explains the word in a visually appealing fashion.
- Using a dangling participle
Consider this sentence:
“Aspiring to be a great social media marketer, Mashable is one site I hope to write for in the future.”
This is wrong, because the participle phrase (“aspiring to be a great social media marketer”) does not describe the noun it modifies (Mashable). Mashable doesn’t aspire to be a great social media marketer (unless the website sprouted limbs and became a person). I aspire to be a great marketer.
“The perfect amount of cheese and sauce, I gobbled up my Domino’s pizza in record time.”
Unless my love for Domino’s is so great that I try to become a human pizza replica by covering myself in mozzarella and tomatoes, this is also wrong.
Exhibit B: Correct use of the pizza-describing participle would be, “The perfect amount of cheese and sauce, Domino’s pizza is my go-to Thursday night meal.”
- Saying “could of,” “would of,” or “should of”
Perhaps these phrases become distorted because people most often use their contracted forms: should’ve, for instance.
“Should’ve” doesn’t stand for “should of,” even though it sounds like it does when we say the term aloud. Rather, it means “should have.”
The same goes with the word “must’ve.” It means “must have.”
Exhibit C: Google Search separates the grammatically inclined men from the boys (cowboys, that is), and reveals that this grammar rule easily confounds people.
- Using the word “irregardless”
Irregardless is not a word, and it’s also redundant. The word “regardless” already means “without regard,” so the word “irregardless” means “without without regard.” There’s no need to get repetitive, now.
Objection: But the word is in Merriam-Webster!
True, but Merriam-Webster considers the word nonstandard, which, according to Grammar Girl, “is a way that dictionaries concede that a word is in common use, but isn’t really a proper word.”
- Saying “could care less”
How many times have you heard someone try to express indifference or apathy by using the phrase, “I could care less whether or not…”?
What such a person really means is that he or she couldn’t care less. He or she aims to convey disinterest and dismissal, but by using the expression “could care less,” what that individual really implies is that he or she still cares a little bit.
Exhibit E: It’s understandable that using the expression “couldn’t care less” seems counter-intuitive. Even major publications blunder, and according to former New York Times Magazine columnist William Safire, usage of the erroneous phrase peaked in 1973 when the Wall Street Journal published the headline, “More and More Girls Flip for Gymnastics: Boys Could Care Less.” Usage has become so rampant that “could care less” outpaces “couldn’t care less” by a 5 to 1 ratio!
Bad grammar not only hinders content marketing efforts, but it also can rob a written piece of its authority and believability. I find it difficult to take seriously or follow the advice of a writer who fails to articulate ideas in a readable way. No one wants a creative post with valuable ideas disregarded on the basis of grammar alone.
And let’s not forget the best thing about poor grammar: it can be easily avoided.
While sometimes a thorn in the side of writers, bad grammar is guilty of being an abscess caused by poor articulation, a wart on written pieces, a blemish on blog posts, and an unsightly mark on marketing efforts.
The one prosecutor I would want to try this case on bad grammar: Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot.