9 Obscure Grammar Rules Every Copywriter Wants You To Know

9 Obscure Grammar Rules Every Copywriter Wants You To KnowPhoto by Rita Morais on Unsplash

Writing quality articles in English can be daunting, especially if you’re a new writer or if English isn’t your first language.

I found it difficult to write quality pieces until I started studying the works of prominent writers. I quickly improved my writing by analyzing the anatomy and flow of their work, plus extensively researching and learning about grammar rules. Based on that, I’ve compiled nine obscure grammar rules that can help you write better articles.

As Joseph Harold Bunting, founder of Write Practice, says,

No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. In fact, you never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.

When describingan object with multiple adjectives, we intuitively write the adjectives in a particular order. But if you’re new to English, you might find it hard to form a proper sentence. Grasping the rules associated with the ordering will help you compose sharper sentences.

  • Place the opinion adjective before the descriptive adjective.
    E.g., Tina has a pair of big, blue eyes.
  • Place a general opinion before a specific one.
    E.g., I want a good, comfortable chair.
  • Apply common adjectives that end with -ed after a verb.
    E.g., it’s valid to say, “Amanda is thrilled to be a part of the community.”
    But the meaning changes when you say, “Amanda is a thrilled part of the community.” or “Amanda is part of a thrilled community.”

In addition to these points, there’s also a generic order to use adjectives.

  • Elements of Eloquence list 8 degrees of adjective positioning: Opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose.
  • Cambridge Dictionary lists 10 degrees of slightly changed adjective ordering: Opinion, size, a physical quantity, shape, age, color, origin, material, type, and purpose.

For example, try saying this sentence: “Tommy is a ferocious brown little dog.”

It feels wrong. Doesn’t it?

Instead, you say: “Tommy is a ferocious little brown dog.” (The order is: opinion, size, and color).

Similar to having an order for adjectives, there are guidelines for using commas with adjectives.

  • When you use multiple adjectives from the same group, separate them with a comma.
    E.g., The terrified, injured boy hid in the smelly, dusty cupboard.
  • Don’t use commas to separate cumulative adjectives. If you’re unsure about cumulative adjectives, try to either change the order of adjectives or add the word ‘and’ between them. If the meaning is not the same, then they’re cumulative adjectives.
    E.g., Julie is baking my favorite chocolate cookie. Here, you can’t add ‘and’ between ‘favorite’ and ‘chocolate.’ You also can’t interchange the two adjectives.
  • Use commas when they’re coordinating adjectives. To identify coordinating adjectives, add the word ‘and’ between them. If the sentence still makes sense, then they’re coordinating adjectives.
    E.g., A happy, content man is fortunate. = A happy and content man is fortunate.

As writers, we use quotes to grab the reader’s attention and leave a long-lasting impact. They create compelling, credible, and coherent articles.

But have you ever noticed the type of quotation marks used in an article? Are they straight or curly?

Straight quotes, commonly known as dumb quotes, are the regular vertical quotation marks. They’re in two forms:

  • Single Quote (‘) and Double Quote (“)

Curly quotes are the quotation marks used in good typography. There’re four types of quote marks:

  • Opening Single Quote (‘) and Closing Single Quote (’)
  • Opening Double Quote (“) and Closing Double Quote (”)

The use of these quotation marks is clearly defined. Straight quotes are for measurements such as 5’8″, and curly quote marks are for citing excerpts and quotes.

Originally, typewriters had only plain quotation marks to save space for other characters. All typed documents had straight quotes. But even after technological advancements, the usage stuck. Keyboards still have only straight quote marks, but we now rely on software to identify the right kind.

We don’t realize the importance of these quotation marks. Usually, we copy-paste quotes from the internet without checking. However, copywriters hate this and will most likely reject your article as sloppy work.

Most reputable online editors automatically convert dumb quotes into curly quotes. But if you’re using different software, make it a point to correct them.

The appropriate way to include quote marks to a quote is:

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” — Stephen King

and not:

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”— Stephen King

This rule is probably my favorite one.

There’re three types of dashes, each used in a particular context. Amateurs mix them up royally. Let’s not be those amateurs.

  • The em dash ( — ) is the long dash. It’s for expressing a thought or for adding a side note.
    E.g., “I’m going to order a — what did Patricia want for her anniversary?”
  • The en dash (–) is shorter. It’s for indicating a range.
    E.g., I read about 10–12 books a year.
  • The hyphen (-) is the shortest line, and it’s for linking words.
    E.g., My brother is twenty-five years old.

The past tense of “learn” can either be learned or learnt.

Upon further research, I realized that it’s a difference between British English and American English. Variations like color and colour or realise and realize are common, but such variations are vague. While I learned to use “learnt” in school, Grammarly taught me the alternate form.

  • In British English, ‘learnt’ is the past tense of ‘learn,’ and ‘learned’ is an adjective that describes scholars.
  • In American English, ‘learned’ is used in both instances.

This rule applies to several common words such as spelt/spelled and leapt/leaped.

British English prefers the -t form over the -ed form. American English, though sometimes allows -t form, such as in dreamt/dreamed, prefers -ed form.

Often, writers use may and might interchangeably. While it sounds right, there’s a subtle difference.

May’ shows a possibility, and ‘might’ signifies uncertainty.

For example:

  • “I may visit you next week.” means there’s a good chance that you’ll visit.
  • “I might go to Cambodia this summer.” hints that it’s unlikely to happen.

Typically, ‘who’ refers to a person, and ‘that’ refers to an object. Mixing this up is one of the commonly made grammatical errors.

For example, the right way to use ‘who’ and ‘that’ is:

  • Mary, who loves cats, is from San Francisco.
  • Peter likes to buy software that Microsoft sells.

So, now that the rule’s apparent for people and objects. But what about animals? Should we use who or that?

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