Cheat Sheet for Better Writing: Gorgeous Grammar

Shy about her grammar

Photo: courtneyguttenberg (Flickr)

A lot of people are shy writers because they’re afraid they’ll embarrass themselves grammatically. Maybe they’ll dangle a participle in public or misplace their modifiers.

Well, the good news is, if you’re a fluent speaker of English, you’re not likely to fall on your duff, grammatically. But there is the possibility of stumbling a little. So here’s a quick cheat sheet to guide you with some of the most common grammatical errors. Refer to it frequently and you’ll find your business writing improving in no time!

Run-on sentences. Separate two independent thoughts with a period, comma, or semicolon. Break up long sentences.

Changing tenses. Keep verb tense (past/present/future) the same throughout the paragraph.

Me/I/him/he. These get misused when you have two people in the sentence (“The movie affected Bob and I”). A good test is to remove the other person from the sentence and test it (“The movie affected I”); if it doesn’t work, then you need to change the pronoun (“The movie affected Bob and me”).


  • Don’t overuse commas. In general, if you can easily understand a sentence without a comma and the meaning doesn’t change, then don’t use it.
  • Use commas to separate adjectives of equal rank. If you can use adjectives interchangeably and insert “and” between them, they need a comma (“Our feet sank in the cold, wet sand.”).
  • Use commas on both sides of a parenthetical phrase (“The restaurant, which was just remodeled, was packed.”).


  • Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses (neither clause needs the other to make grammatical sense).
  • Use a semicolon—NOT A COMMA—before the words however and therefore (“I agree with you in principle; however, it’s not that simple.”).

Apostrophes. Use ONLY to indicate possession (Bob’s widget) or in a contraction (don’t, wasn’t). NEVER use to indicate plurality (1980’s, the Johnson’s, banana’s only $0.59).

This list is just part of a more comprehensive Cheat Sheet to Better Writing. If you like what you see here, you can download the whole thing!