"Between you and I," the speaker says, and DING! sounds the alarm of the Grammar Police. The proper phrase is "between you and me." In another context, an analyst writes "There's three main causes of the expected downturn, we have formulated responses to each." Double DING! The analyst should have written "there're" or "there are," and his comma should have been a semicolon.

The Grammar Police really rack up the overtime.

Although English poet Robert Browning refers to a certain grammarian as "Dead from the waist down," others find not only life and passion in grammar but beauty and brawn. American writer Joan Didion is one of the latter, asserting "All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed."


Grammar can do that. The construction of sentences, the selection, arrangement, and pattern of words, the function of parts of speech, and the use of punctuation all contribute to the meaning of what we write or say. And although some rules and principles of grammar may change over time, businesses and other organizations generally expect adherence to "proper" or standard grammar.

Using poor grammar diminishes or even destroys the desired effectiveness of presentations and documents. It reduces credibility. It muddles messages and alienates audiences.

What's a communicator to do?


Any quest to improve grammatical ability starts with knowing the mistakes you frequently make. Do you write "its" when you mean "it's," or "loose" when you mean "lose"? Do you say "There's" when a plural subject demands "There are"? Heighten your awareness of what you say and write so that you can catch yourself and begin to incorporate correctness.

But sometimes a writer or speaker doesn't know that a particular usage is non-standard. Squarely within proper grammar is "We had run out of options," not "We had ran out of options." It's been a long time since most of us took a grammar course—if we ever did. We repeat mistakes we hear or read. We may use dialects that are considered ungrammatical in other regions. What then?


Scrutinize phrases, words, and sentences, noting their sense and questioning their use. While it's true that grammar is not necessarily logical, it's also true that some parts of it are. For example, contractions always include an apostrophe in place of omitted letters. So just as "don't" is a contraction for "do not," "it's" is a contraction for "it is" and "they're" is a contraction for "they are."

Use the many resources available on the Internet and in hard copy. Authoritative websites and grammar handbooks abound. Take special care, though, in using any grammar checker; many depend on the writer to determine whether a marked word or phrase is correct. While such a program may call your attention to a potential error, you'll need to evaluate its recommendations.

Turn to colleagues, enlisting their assistance in proofreading documents and rehearsing presentations. Ask them to pay attention to the grammar you've used, to flag what seems wrong. Then check your usage by consulting resources to determine standard usage. If you're really perplexed by grammar, a course may be what you need to move you not only into correctness but into comfort.

Grammar does possess an infinite power, both beauty and brawn. May that strength be with you.