by Jody Bruner

What’s one of the best ways to upgrade your written communications? Improve your grammar game.

What is grammar, anyway?

First and most importantly, grammar defines common language rules so we can communicate with one another. If each of us constructs sentences according to our own rules, communication is impossible. Second, it defines the parts of language so we can describe them: for example, this type of word is called a noun and we use it to signify a person, place or thing.

Effective writers understand how grammatical components work together to make effective sentences that connect meaningfully with readers. Here are four common grammar mistakes in business writing and how to repair them.

Error #1: Verbs disagree with their subjects

The rule itself is simple: verbs must agree with subjects in number.

  • The child runs down the street. (singular noun, singular verb)
  • The children run down the street. (plural noun, plural verb)

Some sentences invite complication when applying this rule, though, including phrases that come between subject and verb. For example:

  • The loss of two friends and a job are the price Ian has to pay for his curiosity. (incorrect)
  • The loss of two friends and a job is the price Ian has to pay for his curiosity. (correct)

Because the of phrase contains a plural noun (friends), it’s tempting to choose the plural verb form. We suggest a mental leap over the entire of phrase to check verb agreement, like this: The loss…is.

Error #2: Pronouns disagree with their antecedents

Pronouns are like the friend that holds your place in line: in the following sentences, pronouns can stand in for Bob, Deepa, or dogs so writers can avoid repetition like this:

  • Bob went to the store and Bob bought a newspaper.

Those placeholding pronouns must agree with the noun they’re replacing (aka the antecedent) in gender and number.

  • Deepa went to the store and he bought a computer. (incorrect)
  • Deepa went to the store and she bought a computer. (correct: Deepa…she)

They is as flexible as a yoga master: use it to stand in for a singular noun (for gender neutrality) or with a plural noun.

  • Jade went to the store and they bought bread. (Jade…they)
  • Dogs try to get as many treats as they can. (Dogs…they)

Error #3: Me, myself and I muddle

Misuse of myself runs rampant in the business community, especially in email, where sentences like this pop up like dandelions:

  • Please contact Jason or myself for more information. (incorrect)
  • Please contact Jason or me for more information. (correct)

Myself serves a distinct grammatical function. It isn’t interchangeable with I or me. Use it correctly:

  • I would like a burger with fries. (correct: subject)
  • Bring the report to me when you’re finished. (correct: object)
  • I will drive you to the airport myself. (correct: reflexive)
  • I, myself, prefer oranges. (correct: intensive)

Error #4: Modifiers dangle

A sentence with a dangling modifier often sounds wonky to writers, but the cause can be elusive. A modifier dangles when the noun it wants to modify is missing in action, like this:

  • Shivering in the cold, the bus finally appeared. (incorrect)

We know a bus can’t shiver, but who or what is shivering?

Fix a dangling modifier by adding the agent of the action into that modifying word group or just after it.

  • When she began to shiver in the cold, the bus finally appeared. (correct)
  • Shivering in the cold, she was relieved when the bus finally appeared. (correct)

Repair these mistakes for a credibility boost

For some readers, grammatical errors indicate carelessness and erode their confidence in the writer. By learning and practicing good grammar, you’ll ensure that your communication travels to your reader with minimal distortion and improve your credibility at the same time.