Why Grammar Matters

Updated: Jun 12

The Apostrophe Protection Society has shut down after 18 years.

The website has a notice that it might be up in the New Year for a few more years...with a typo which is driving me nuts.

But on reading the CBC article this morning, my heart broke a little for founder John Richards. The defeat in Mr. Richard's responses to the interviewer struck a deep chord with me: I have to justify the use of a style guide or particular grammar choice on the daily.

Admittedly, my mood today probably didn't help how much the article struck a nerve. Editing work tends to slow over the holidays as commitments and finances tug at everyone, so deadlines and contracts get shoved into the new year (January-February is the polar opposite of November-December in terms of work). As such, I always find myself hunting a little more, which also means getting rejected a little more, around this time of year. I know this happens every year, but my self-esteem takes a hit every December all the same. If you need to steel yourself for rejection as a writer, you have to triple your thick skin as an editor—and those of us who do both probably laugh maniacally just to stop the tears (my heart is with all of you).

Much like Mr. Richards, I've also written in randomly to various online publications and businesses about typos in their articles or websites. I don't just mean one or two here or there, I mean consistent misspellings of words or names in one article. A few errors are bound to slip notice, but an error in every other sentence...it's embarrassing to me.

Apparently it isn't embarrassing to others as I often get no reply or, like Mr. Richards, I get flippant and sometimes downright rude responses.

Worst of which is always "who cares?"

Obviously I do, you useless muffin, or I wouldn't have written in.

It's Prettier This Way

From capitalization to punctuation, writers bend the rules for effect—which is fine, provided you understand the rules to begin with. I'm an adamant supporter of the Oxford comma, not everyone is, but they'll use it when their sentence gets a bit complicated without the extra comma. I like my punctuation within the quotation marks; many UK and European publications don't. These are part of a publication's style guide. There are options in the English language (sometimes too many).

Mr. Richards mentions a business that put up the word "COFFEE'S" in its window. The error here being that the possessive apostrophe-s is being used for no reason at all. In this context, it should really be "COFFEE" as the plural is reserved for discussing various types of coffees. The owner's defence? "It looks better."

Does it though?

Practically, you're adding two more characters that don't need to be there. If you had to buy the sticker or the advertiser charged by the letter, what's the point of adding more letters?

Stylistically, your readers will do a double take. I mean, "Coffee's what?" Or did you mean "coffees" plural? Am I going to be disappointed if all you serve is some black swill passing as coffee?

I have not had my coffee today...that may also be playing on my mood.

Why Decent Grammar and Punctuation Matter

Notice I used the word "decent" here. Most publications hire a multitude of writers and, even with a proper editing team, you'll miss things. Every writer has their own style and keeping a publication consistent is no easy feat.

But blatantly bad grammar? It just looks sloppy. The more errors a piece of writing has, the less credible the author may appear. Of course, depending on the publication, you might get away with more errors in your own blog than in a scientific journal.

Still, there's something to be said for clear and concise writing, whether your posting what you had for lunch or you're publishing a full-length novel.

It shows me, as the reader, that you cared. If you cared enough to make sure your writing was clear and consistent, then I know you took some time beyond writing. It took you time to write and you took extra time to ensure it was legible and coherent. Thank you!

If you didn't, if I catch a dozen misspellings, I start to wonder if you cared about the point you're making; and, if you didn't, why should I? Worse still if I have to reread and try to make sense of what's been written. You didn't put the effort in, why should I?

As writers, we're only as good as our readers and some extra effort (and maybe a little help from a trusty editor) could go a long way in showing them the respect they deserve.

So to all those out there fighting the good fight for proper grammar and punctuation: Take heart. There are readers who notice and we thank you for your efforts! ❤️


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