broken coffee cup

11th March 2021

Copywriting and Grammar: Some Rules Are Meant to be Broken

Were you always taught never to start a sentence with “and”? And weren't you told that contractions can weaken your statement? Nonsense. At least in the world of copywriting...

We “broke” 3 grammar rules in that paragraph but we’re betting unless you work for an exam board or Grammarly, that you let those slide without even really worrying about it. We’re hoping that you actually found it a lot more relatable than a 100% grammatically correct essay that sounds like a robot.

And that’s partly what copywriting is about. Making a connection with the reader in order to persuade them into taking action. People won’t take action if they can’t relate or feel anything.

Know which grammar rules to break

When writing copy, it’s important to be aware of the grammar rules that exist and have a specific reason for the rules you’re breaking, otherwise, you’ll lose your readers. We’re not looking to recreate disasters like this:

bad grammar

Intentional bad grammar is carefully crafted for the right effect. This advert from Dunkin’ Donuts is an excellent example of bad grammar working wonderfully:

dunkin donuts ad

In this article, we’re going to cover some of the grammar rules that can be bent or broken, if done correctly.

Contractions

Using contractions is really important for your copywriting. Unless you’re in one of the few businesses that require highly formal language at all times, we’d recommend using them wherever it feels natural. If it feels natural to you, it’s likely to feel natural to your audience as well. And this is why they’re used. Contractions (such as “don’t”, “it’s” and “you’re”) are used in everyday speech all the time and your copy should do the same. If you disagree, try going for 24 hours without saying a single contraction.

Starting sentences with “and” and “but”

“But we were told not to do this by our English teachers!” Whilst grammatically, it’s not supposed to be done, it is in fact done... everywhere. And with good reason! Starting sentences with “and” or “but” are great ways of grabbing attention and emphasising points you’ve made. They also help to mimic the way we speak, which can sometimes be in fragments.

Sentence fragments

Sometimes, we don’t speak in full sentences. It’s true. It happens from time to time. If you wrote as you spoke in your school assignments, you’d likely fail. But, for your marketing, you don’t always need to do this. Not only does it help to emulate the way people talk, but it can also help bring emphasis and vary the pace of your copy.

This example from KFC during the Great Chicken Shortage of 2018 “breaks” all three of the rules covered so far:

KFC copy

One sentence paragraphs

Paragraphs with one sentence only can add significant importance to points in your copy.

They create white space in your PPC ads, website and other material that provide a much-needed relief from heavier content and allow for easier digestion of information. They’re also another excellent way to add impact, both through their message and the visual white space they create.

Splitting infinitives

Star Trek wouldn’t be the same if it was “to go boldly where no man has gone before”. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go”. This is the finest example of splitting an infinitive, which occurs when a word comes between “to” and the verb.

Research has also shown that splitting infinitives is three times more common now than it was in the 1990s. The way people speak is rapidly changing and as marketers, we need to stay on top of what is trending in order to be relevant to customers and to distinguish ourselves from the competition.

Slang and colloquialisms

As language continues to develop, one of the more obvious and frequent changes to the way we speak is through the use of slang and colloquial language. In 2005 the word “selfie” barely existed. By 2013, it was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year with an increase in usage of 17,000%. With technology driving so much change, slang and new words spread so much quicker and your audience may adapt these new words.

Whether the words are new or old, you need to remember you’re writing for your audience. You need to write how they speak, so if they use them, so should you. Remember, the content you write is for them, not your board of directors or your secondary school English teacher. There’s no need to be “extra” about it, if you need to “lowkey” ask your audience “what’s good?” in order to make the right connection, you should!

Don’t be a stickler

When it comes to writing copy for your business, you should be a little flexible with the copy. Just because it doesn’t resonate well with you individually, it doesn’t mean it won’t work on your target audience.

Remember that the vast majority of your audience doesn’t have a masters degree in English Grammar but they sure can spot mistakes. Don’t be afraid to bend and break the rules but don’t throw the rulebook away altogether, it could save lives:

Let’s eat Grandma
Let’s eat, Grandma.

Grammar saves lives.

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