When is good enough good enough? While we should always hone our writing craft, we don’t need to cripple ourselves with perfection. Learn how to use two free tools to make sure your grammar leaves a good impression.
To be, or Not to Be
“I’ve had enough,” my student whined. “Why do you keep telling me that I use passive construction?”
I breathed a sigh and a prayer and patiently explained the concept again. “Passive construction happens when you have the action happening TO someone one instead of someone DOING something.”
The student looked at me blankly.
“Think of it this way. Would you rather kiss a girl? Or be kissed by a girl?”
“Kiss a girl,” he exclaimed with a ‘Duh, Mrs. Ojeda’ tone to his voice.
“Right! That’s because YOU kiss her. When you write, your readers will find your writing more exciting if you make the sentences active.”
“Because then it sounds more like an action movie,” he said.
“Sure. Something like that,” I agreed. “Go back through your paper and get rid of all the forms of the verb ‘to be.’ It will make it more enjoyable to read.”
He rushed off to battle the verb ‘to be,’ and I moved on to help the next student.
This one couldn’t figure out how to eliminate a ‘to be’ verb from her sentence. We talked about how when you use a verb+ing, you could probably get rid of the form of the verb ‘to be’ that comes beforehand. You just have to rearrange the sentence a little.
“Why do you care so much about passive voice,” she asked.
“Because people will like your writing more if you don’t use it,” I assured her. “In fact, you’ll probably score higher on essay and research papers because your professors enjoy reading what you wrote. They read enough boring papers that yours will stand out. Eliminating passive voice makes you a stronger writer.”
Enough About Grammar–3 Tools You Can Use
I’ve taught English in a variety of capacities for over 30 years, and I always try to teach my students that writing well makes it easier for others to receive our words. Craft matters.
When we fail to write well, ignore the rules of grammar, and sprinkle creative spelling throughout our work, people struggle to understand. They also judge us. Whether right or wrong, people judge us by our written products.
Minority students, like mine, already have enough prejudice working against them. By learning the craft of writing well, they can present their opinions and ideas in a way that others can receive.
The same applies to you and me as bloggers. We need to spend time on craft. Even though we hated English class in high school we need to learn how to write well and spell correctly if we want people to receive our message.
I’ve discovered a free tool that has helped me (yes, even English teachers make mistakes) improve my craft. Grammarly has a free plug-in that will catch mistakes that even Microsoft Word’s spell check program misses. I’ve discovered that you can never have enough tools to catch typos or graceless grammar.
Grammarly doesn’t check for passive voice. It also doesn’t advocate for the Oxford comma. But it does provide a wonderful tool that all craft-conscious bloggers should use.
Yoast, a free plug-in for self-hosted Word Press blogs has a passive voice checker that will help keep you on track. Weaning yourself from all forms of the verb ‘to be’ may take time, but your readers will appreciate your effort.
For those who’ve had enough of the Internet, Writer,’s Inc., an easy-to-understand grammar book I use in my classroom, also serves as a great reference tool. You can find good used copies for under $10.
Commas Everywhere (but Where They Belong)
I confess that I sometimes overuse commas—Grammarly has pointed this out to me multiple times. The comma most people leave out can actually save lives.
We call it the comma of direct address. When we address someone directly, we have a slight pause before we say their name. The comma before someone’s name marks the slight pause (and can completely change the meaning of the sentence.
Don’t beat yourself up over typos or grammatical errors, and don’t overanalyze every word you write. Do try to write with intention and make use of the free tools that will help you hone your craft.
Enough about grammar. Tomorrow we’ll explore keywords and SEO (search engine optimization).