Posted on 06/09/2021 at 03:21 PM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Grammar has the power to make or break your writing. That’s why you need to be knowledgeable about important grammar rules. Here are nine to keep in mind... 

Table of Contents 

1. Use Active Voice vs. Passive Voice. 

Writers are told time and time again to use active voice over passive voice — and for good reason. With active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the verb’s action.

The emphasis is placed on the subject, which has a greater impact. Further, the use of active voice results in a strong, clear, and direct tone.     

Just consider the example below...

  • Active: The detective opened the door.

  • Passive: The door was opened by the detective.

Of course, there may be times when passive voice is worth using (e.g., when the focus should be on the object rather than the subject).

In most cases, however, you should write your sentences in active voice. It’s one of the most important grammar rules to follow if you want each line in your story to really pack a punch.  

2. Be Careful with Homophones. 

Homophones are pairs or groups of words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings. They’re also a major source of trouble for writers.

If you use the wrong word, it can completely change the meaning of your sentence and throw off your readers. 

Here are some common homophones:

  • Their, they’re, and there

  • Bear and bare

  • Compliment and complement

  • A lot and allot

  • Past and passed

Because homophones can go overlooked by spell-check tools and even professional editors, it’s best to get it right the first time.

Make sure to use the correct word in your writing. And when in doubt, consult the dictionary.  

3. Clarify When Actions Occur. 

Being clear about the order in which actions occur is another one of the most important grammar rules to follow. Yet, it’s one that many authors break without realizing it.

Chances are you’ve even done it yourself by failing to distinguish between consecutive and simultaneous actions.  

For example...

  • Confusing: Walking into his office, he plopped down at his desk.

  • Clear: He walked into his office and then plopped down at his desk. 

A lack of clarity in such cases can confuse readers and pull them away from the story. So, check to make sure the order of events makes sense.

Think about whether actions can be done simultaneously or if one needs to come before the other.  

4. Be Consistent with Verb Tense. 

You may not use the same verb tense throughout your entire book. However, it’s crucial that you maintain consistency within every sentence.

Failing to do so can make your writing look sloppy. Worse, it can trip up readers and ruin their flow in following along with your story.   

Oftentimes this mistake occurs when an author or editor changes the tense of one verb in a sentence but overlooks another. As a result, there’s a break in tense agreement. 

Here’s an example:

  • Incorrect: She goes to the library and picked out a book.

  • Correct: She went to the library and picked out a book.

As you write, make sure you’re using the proper verb tense. And if you decide to change one verb, apply that change to any others in the sentence so it reads clearly.  

5. Don’t Use Double Negatives (in Most Cases). 

Avoiding the use of double negatives is another one of the most important grammar rules to follow.

One reason is that double negatives aren’t considered proper English. Another reason is that introducing them in your writing can flip the meaning of your sentence.   

Consider the following...

  • There wasn’t nothing in the envelope. This suggests there was something in the envelope.

  • There wasn’t anything in the envelope. This makes it clear the envelope was empty. 

Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.

In languages such as Spanish, double negatives are required. So, if you’re writing in another language, defer to the rules of that language.

If you’re writing in standard English, however, steer clear of this construct. 

6. Make Sure Verbs Agree with Their Subjects. 

You’re no doubt aware of the need for subject-verb agreement. In fact, it’s probably something you’ve heard repeatedly since elementary school.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it here. After all, it is an essential rule of grammar.

Plus, the introduction of subject-verb disagreement is one of the most common grammatical mistakes writers make. 

Here’s an example:

  • Wrong: The actress have two awards.

  • Right: The actress has two awards. 

This kind of mistake can be very noticeable to readers. So, as you write, make sure the verb in each sentence agrees with its subject.

To be safe, use grammar and editing tools to check your work. 

7. Avoid Run-on Sentences.  

Run-on sentences, also referred to as fused sentences, can harm your story. They make it difficult to tell where one sentence ends and the next one begins.

As a result, readers may end up skimming a passage quickly and missing something crucial.

That’s why you should follow this rule and avoid run-on sentences altogether.

To do this, you need to be sure independent clauses are connected correctly. 

  • Run-on sentence: She couldn’t see anything, the lights were off. 

  • Revised sentence: She couldn’t see anything because the lights were off.

Typically, run-on sentences can be fixed by introducing punctuation marks (e.g., semicolons, periods) or conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but, because) in your sentence. 

8. Apply Appropriate Verbs to Speaker Tags. 

If you’re writing a fictional story, chances are you’ll have quite a lot of dialogue. And in that case, you need to apply appropriate verbs to speaker tags.

These tags consist of the speaker’s name or a pronoun, along with a speech-related verb.

However, many authors forget the second part of the equation and introduce verbs that don’t fit the action of talking. 

Here’s an example: 

  • Wrong: “You’re here,” she smiled. 

  • Right: “You’re here.” She smiled, then said, “It’s so good to see you.”

When creating your dialogue, double-check that every speaker tag includes a speech-related verb.

That doesn’t mean you’re restricted to said or stated. Just use verbs that describe speech (e.g., yelled, exclaimed, asked, replied). 

9. Always Aim for Parallel Structure. 

Despite being one of the most important grammar rules out there, this one tends to get broken a lot.

Many authors make parallel structure errors without meaning to do so. This happens when parts of a sentence don’t share the same grammatical form. 

For example... 

  • Incorrect: He enjoys going to the beach, listening to podcasts, and his motorcycle. 

  • Correct: He enjoys going to the beach, listening to podcasts, and riding his motorcycle.

Aiming for parallel structure is vital because it improves the flow of a sentence, making it easier to read and understand.

When you write a sentence with items in a series, be sure they match up grammatically. Otherwise, that sentence may stick out to your reader in a bad way.  

What to Take Away from These Important Grammar Rules 

It’s not just about what you write that makes a good story; it’s about how you write too. Grammar plays a major role in how well your book is received by your readers.

So, keep these important grammar rules in mind moving forward. Following them can go a long way toward improving your writing!

Categories: Behind the scenes

Tagged As: Editing, Language

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