Grammar and punctuation are often seen as difficult to understand for many people. There appears to be too many rules and so it can be intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be, it is something that can be learnt.
Grammar refers to the type of words we use, for example: verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives. It is how we put words together and why we do it that way. Punctuation refers to the symbols we put between the words, for example: full stops, commas and apostrophes.
There are rules and conventions about grammar and punctuation. This is to help us understand each other. However, these rules and conventions do change. For example, many of us learnt never to start a sentence with the word and, but this is now considered acceptable in some forms of writing.
For many years, schools did not teach grammar and punctuation. It was thought that students would just absorb the correct usage. This did not happen. Misusing both grammar and punctuation gives you and the business you represent a very poor image. It looks very unprofessional and can cloud your meaning.
Using proper grammar includes learning to use the correct word. The difference between affect and effect is an example. Affect is a verb meaning to influence. Effect is a noun which means result or outcome, but it can also be a verb meaning to bring about or accomplish.
Nouns are naming words like letter or email. Verbs are doing words like writing or reading. Adjectives describe nouns, for example: a long letter or technical email. Adverbs describe the verb, for example: writing quickly or reading thoroughly.
Syntax is another aspect of grammar. It refers to the order of the words we use, the way phrases and clauses work together. It shows the connection between words. An example is: ‘Being a gorilla, I fed Albert bananas’. Because the gorilla and I are so close together it sounds like I am the gorilla, not Albert. It should read ‘I fed Albert, who is a gorilla, bananas.’
Well-constructed syntax also helps create the mood of the article. Short, sharp phrases and clauses lead to short sentences. These are easier to understand. Even computer language has its own syntax – the words have to work together to be understood by the computer.
There are many stories of misused commas. The difference between: ‘I like to cook grandma and dogs’ or ‘I like to cook, grandma and dogs’ is quite dramatic. Commas let you know there should be a break in the sentence so it reads correctly.
Apostrophes are another punctuation mark easy to misuse. They are used to denote ownership, as in the doctor’s report where the doctor owns the report. Alternatively, apostrophes are used where letters are missing because we abbreviate the word. For example: they’re instead of they are.
Colons and semi colons also deserve to be mentioned. A colon does not end a sentence. Instead, it is used to introduce something like a list or dot points. Semi colons are used to denote a pause or a break between two closely related clauses.
A good way to check if you have correct grammar and punctuation is to print your document, read it slowly and aloud. You can check that no words are missing or misused, and to see if the commas and full stops are in the right place. This will help to ensure the flow of the article and clarify your meaning.
Another pair of eyes is also helpful to ensure everything is in order and makes sense. Someone else may pick up errors that we have missed because we are too close to our own document.
There are some very good courses that train people in the use of grammar and punctuation. Some focus on grammar and punctuation for business writing in particular.
The reason for using correct grammar and punctuation is so we can understand each other’s documents. It’s the same as road rules which make life on the roads easier and smoother. If there were no road rules there would be chaos on the roads. It’s the same with language – with no rules we would not understand each other. That would be a different sort of chaos.