English Grammar: Hallmarks of Good Writing

English grammar rules and good writing go hand in hand. Good writing can be identified by two important qualities: brevity and clarity. As a writer, you need to be an effective communicator by being able to tell your readers exactly what you mean with as few words as possible, as clearly as you are able to. By following these two simple rules, your article will appear well-written and well thought out. More importantly, your readers will be able to understand what you are saying and you will have accomplished your goal in writing – which is to communicate your ideas effectively to your readers.

Clarity – English is populated by homonyms (words of the same spelling but with different meaning), homophones (words with the same pronunciation but with different meaning and spelling), and synonyms (words with the same or almost the same meaning as each other); words that when used incorrectly will give a different meaning to your sentence. In English grammar, this can usually mean a world of difference between being understood and being misunderstood.


Homophones: loose vs. lose

Lose is a verb which means to be defeated or to misplace something while loose can be used both as an adjective and as a verb. Used as an adjective, loose can mean a lot of things but usually mean the following: tight, relaxed, free, or unbundled. Used as a verb it can mean: to release, to undo, detach, to let fly or discharge.

You can lose your keys, you can lose the game, but you can’t loose your mind. You can let loose and relax though. Or wear loose clothing.

See the difference? Incorrect English grammar often stands out like a sore thumb in any written article.

Homonyms: there, they’re, and their

Interchanging anyone of the three can have disastrous results in your sentences and vastly change what you want to say.

They’re is the contracted form of they are. (e.g., They’re/They are the ones who stole my wallet!)

Their is a possessive pronoun which denotes possession by a group of people. (e.g., it’s their turn to clean the stables this week)

There can be used as an adverb (e.g., I saw her there a few moments ago), a pronoun (e.g., There is nothing you can do), or as an interjection (e.g., There! We made it!)

Brevity – brevity is being concise or being short and direct to the point. Think of it as the opposite of beating around the bush. Brevity is the gold standard by which all the best writers are measured. If you are verbose (wordy), chances are you won’t be winning any writing contests any time soon no matter how perfect your English grammar may be. Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

To master conciseness, always try to use as few words as possible without losing the meaning in what you are trying to say. Always practice using the most common, simplest words you can think of instead of the longer, more obscure words in the English language.

Always ask yourself: can I still shorten this sentence? How about the words I’m using – can they be understood by the general reader or am I writing an article that will require readers to have a dictionary on hand to understand?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then you need to rewrite and shorten or simplify your sentences.