When you’ve been instructed to follow strict grammar rules since elementary school, it’s easy to focus on writing mechanics a little too much sometimes.
Even if you’re writing marketing copy and not the next treatise on human rights, you’ll still find yourself reciting things like, “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c” … as you try to convince an audience to buy a toaster oven. Some grammar rules like this have simply been repeated and used so often that they’re almost impossible to shake from memory.
While you should strive to be grammatically correct most of the time, there are times when it might not be beneficial to your marketing copy at all. This is especially the case if you’re trying to connect with and persuade an audience. If you aren’t writing the way you speak and come across as stuffy, inauthentic, and are well…boring, then your audience won’t care what you’re writing about.
As someone who has a master’s in English, it was very difficult for me to ignore some of the grammar rules that were at the core of my writing practice for so long, until I realized that I was speaking to an entirely different type of audience when writing marketing copy. I discovered that if I wanted to connect with my audience, I needed to break some common grammar rules.
Here are some of the rules you can and should break in your marketing copy.
Beginning a Sentence with a Conjunction
Rule: Don’t use a conjunction such as “and,” “but,” or “or” at the beginning of a sentence. Since conjunctions are typically used to combine or coordinate separate clauses within a sentence, a sentence can’t begin with one.
And then they started to sing.
But due to the road closure, we were late.
Proponents of this rule claim you shouldn’t begin a sentence with a conjunction because such a sentence expresses an incomplete thought and is a fragment. However, this rule has no historical or grammatical backing. Even conservative grammarians and experienced writers often ignore it.
Writers often start sentences with conjunctions for a powerful or dramatic effect. For instance, “The nurse neglected to help the doctor in the operating room. But why?” offers a dramatic effect. They also ignore it because if the sentence contains a subject and predicate (as in, “And then I went to the park.”) it’s a sentence. If it doesn’t (“and then park”), it’s not.
If you decide to break this grammar rule, do so for a thoughtful purpose and in moderation. Remember that using conjunctions within sentences still serves a purpose too.
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
Rule: A sentence can’t end with a preposition because a preposition is supposed to relate one word or phrase to another, and is followed by the object of a sentence. Typically, prepositions are used to express place (e.g., “to the store”) or time (e.g., “before the bell”).
“I need something to write with.”
“She wanted someone to talk to.”
This rule was related with Latin grammar hundreds of years ago and doesn’t really fit inside the realm of English grammar in modern times. Some writers will contort their sentences so unnaturally to adhere to this rule that they risk coming across as arrogant or stuffy. Winston Churchill himself once reportedly exclaimed, “That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!” to mock someone who criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition.
If you want to have a natural and conversational tone in your copy, then ditch this rule when appropriate. For instance, it obviously sounds more natural to write, “She is someone worth talking to.” instead of “She is someone with whom it is worthwhile to talk.” And it’s more natural to write, “They must be convinced of the commitment they are taking on” instead of “Of the commitment they are taking on they must be convinced.”
Rule: Split infinitives happen when you put an adverb between “to” and a verb. There’s no real known justification for this rule, which was originally based on comparisons in Latin grammar.
“to diligently study”
“to happily sing”
One of the most famous split infinitives is the Star Trek slogan, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Stating, “to go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same effect.
Splitting infinitives can have a strong emphatic effect in your marketing copy, making it more appealing to your audience. For example, instead of writing, “You really have to watch this.” you might want to write, “You have to really watch this.”
Substituting “Which” for “That” as a Relative Pronoun
Rule: Only “that” should introduce a restrictive clause (a clause that isn’t preceded by a comma and contains information crucial to the sentence’s meaning). “Which” should introduce clauses that are set off by a comma.
Both following examples are correct:
“Sue discovered the spatula that Aunt Beatrice had taken.”
“Sue discovered the spatula, which Aunt Beatrice had taken, in the drawer.”
Many experts conclude that this grammar rule has no basis. They claim it’s okay to say, “Sue found the spatula which Aunt Beatrice had taken.” However, most American style guides specify that “which” can only be substituted for “that” in British English. In marketing copy, however, simply use the option that sounds more natural as you’re writing.
Interchanging “Since” with “Because”
Rule: “Since” refers to time and “because” refers to cause, so they can’t be used interchangeably.
Since she started her tutoring lessons, her grades have been better.
Because she started her tutoring lessons, her grades have been better.
The sentence above can start with either “since” or “because” and each option still makes sense. However, if you want to remain clear in your marketing copy, only use “since” in place of “because” if it’s not ambiguous and the meaning is clear.
Even though the distinction between “since” and “because” is specified in many style guides, a lot of people continue to interchange them. So, as long as your copy is clear, go ahead and use the option that reads the best.
Writing in Sentence Fragments
Rule: Every sentence should have a main clause in it that has an independent subject and a verb; and it should express a complete thought. Otherwise, it’s a fragment. Every paragraph should have at least three sentences, including a topic sentence and supporting or transition sentences. Otherwise, it’s not a complete paragraph.
The few. The proud. The Marines.
Ridiculous! Completely ridiculous!
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People speak in sentence fragments like these all the time, regardless of their level of education. Why? Because when you’re talking to someone, you don’t have to constantly repeat what or who you’re talking about and what is happening, in every sentence you utter. That would be completely ridiculous, unnecessary, and tedious!
Sentence fragments can also be added for emphasis, and are easier to read because they break up larger chunks of text. And they stand out. Like this.
Rule: Avoid using slang in anything you write for your profession if you want to keep your integrity intact.
Slang, according to Dictionary.com, is “very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language.” Another definition offered is, “the jargon of a particular class, profession, etc.”
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If you want your audience to relate to your message, then you need to speak their language or jargon, literally. However, do not overboard with slang words or phrases, or use terminology you aren’t familiar with. And match the slang you’re using to your audience’s knowledge base and demographic. For example, if you’re referring to the “back end” when speaking to an audience of people who build houses (not websites), they might be confused. And if you’re speaking to an audience of millennials, don’t use a bunch of acronyms like “TTYL” or “FOMO” if you have no idea what they mean.
Additionally, even if you’re using slang to connect with your audience, you should still never swear or use offensive and derogatory terms in marketing copy. And do not use language that is so informal it can be insulting, like, “hey guys” or “dude.”
There are times when it’s less important to follow strict grammar rules and more important to connect with your audience. And if you truly want to connect with them, you need to speak their language by being conversational yet professional in your copy. Sometimes this means you’ll have to break some grammar rules, like the ones listed above. While your high school English teacher might not approve, your audience certainly will.
Is there another grammar rule you like to break in your marketing copy? Share it with us by leaving a reply below!
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