I turned on the radio one morning to hear Terry Wogan declare: ‘Tits like coconuts,’ and I spat my coffee over my keyboard. After a heartbeat of a pause, he added: ‘And sparrows like breadcrumbs…’
The English language is a beautiful thing but it can go horribly wrong. Writing the content for a professional publication requires professional writing skills. Poor grammar, bad spelling and clumsy sentence construction can make an otherwise very elegant publication ugly. How pretty is your prose? Try this simple quiz:
PROFESSIONAL APOSTROPHE FAILURES: Only one of these four album sleeves has the correct punctuation
Apostrophes mark contractions / omissions or possession. Describing the decade of the eighties numerically, the correct punctuation is '80s – the apostrophe marks the omitted '19'. Answer number two has the honour of a double failure – 80's is the classic inappropriate singular possessive (aka 'greengrocer's' apostrophe) and 'Worlds' SHOULD be the singular possessive 'World's'
SHOW SOME INTEREST: Your friend is impartial and you ask for their opinion. They answer but find your conundrum boring. Which of the following best describes their position?
To say someone is 'disinterested' means they have no vested interest in the outcome and are, thus, unbiased. To say they are 'uninterested' means they just don't give a toss. In this case, your friend fulfils both categories.
MAYBE, OR MAY BE? Or maybe not
Do you need an adverb or a modal on your verb? Here's a simple test; swap in the word 'perhaps' in place of maybe / may be in your sentence and if it still makes sense, then you need 'maybe'. If it doesn't, then you need 'may be'.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Well, don't be writing about T&C's or looking in the FAQ's...
If you don't know apostrophes, you'll not guess this one. Apostrophes mark omissions or possession. There is no possession in this phrase and only one omission in the contraction of 'do not' to 'don't'. Like the abbreviations of Terms & Conditions (T&Cs) and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), the use of capitals – DOs and DON'Ts – helps it make sense to the eye that does not know punctuation
How did you do?
These questions cover the most basic but most common failures in published English and are found often in otherwise professional material. If you got any of them wrong, then you should not sign-off on any copy you are committing to publication.
What is the cost?
Is it really worth you investing in the services of a professional writer? Well, that depends on how much you can afford to absorb the consequences of bad copy. At the lowest level, there will be customers who did not bother to contact you because they take the poor quality of your prose as indicative of your service or product as a whole. At the other end of the scale, you could end up having to scrap an entire project at considerable expense.
When Transport For London (TfL) published a poster with a plural / singular verb disagreement in the copy, the error slipped past everyone involved in the marketing project, from the copy writer who made the gaff, all the way to whoever signed the poster off for print. This was a big budget project manned by people who really ought to know better. Once the posters were up, the public, rather than being impressed with TfL’s money management, took to social media to flag up the poor grammar – not quite the message this campaign was supposed to deliver. The posters were pulled and pulped and that grammatical error cost TfL £100,000 and a lot of wasted time and effort.
- What is the ‘Greengrocer’s’ apostrophe? – Oxford Dictionary
- ‘Hello, death’: Coca-Cola mixes English and Māori on vending machine – The Guardian
- Maybe or may be? – Cambridge Dictionary
- TfL poster campaign containing embarrassing grammar mistake cost nearly £100,000 – Evening Standard