Category Archives: Mechanics of English

Discussion of English language use, with reference to form and structure. What is correct English, how can we break it down, what does it mean for copywriting?

Introducing the Grammar of Word Order and Sentence Structure

sentence structure guideEver wanted to brush up on all the basics of how a sentence fits together? My grammar guide, Word Order in English Sentences, can help. I’ve been spending less time publishing things online recently as I’ve been working on improving this as one of my earlier works, and preparing it for publication in print. It was originally designed as a brief guide for foreign students of English, but has a practical application for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of how sentences fit together.  Continue reading

Bending the rules of formal writing for business and correspondence

bending formal writing rulesWhen exploring techniques for formal writing  in business and correspondence, there are two points that effectively form the building blocks of appearing official, neutral, neat and polite. Essentially, writing in the passive voice and using formal vocabulary. There are times when you can sound too formal, though, when a little human touch is necessary. Hoping to calm down an angry employee or customer, for example, or in building relationships. Using these two key techniques in formal writing, it’s possible to start bending the rules. Continue reading

Disappearing down the grammar hole

english grammar ebookEager readers of Copywrite Now may be wondering where I’ve been lately. Run out of adverts to analyse and copy to ponder over? Kicking back on a beach somewhere far afield? Not exactly. About a year ago I started work on a brief English grammar guide for foreign students, planned to be some 14 pages or so long. In the past month or two I knuckled down to finally finishing it, at about ten times that initial length. Such is the nature of the ever-evolving beast that is English grammar. On top of that, my freelancing efforts have been channelled increasingly into the full-time realm, as I’ve taken up a mobile app project that’s quickly becoming a serious business. But that’s a story for another day.  Continue reading

What makes grammar boring?

what makes grammar boringOne of my earliest memories of being aware of the concept of grammar is an ill-fated English lesson in secondary school, where my teacher opened the class by saying “Now I’m sorry, but we have to cover some grammar today.” Having had the subject introduced like that, it felt perfectly natural to oblige him with a loud groan of disappointment, inspiring a few cheap chuckles from around the class. He quickly countered, though, “Fine, Phil, if it’s so boring then how about you tell the class what a preposition is.”

No one had ever taught me what a preposition was, so of course I looked like a fool for mocking the noble virtues of a grammar class. To this day I feel I was unjustly chastised; sure, I didn’t know what a preposition was, but to be honest I wasn’t too sure what grammar was either. I had groaned because the way he’d brought it up made it sound like it warranted a groan. And that’s a fundamental problem in the way we understand grammar. It’s presented as a dull set of tools, so we grow up believing it’s boring. Continue reading

A short list of obscure words

obscure wordsThere comes a time in every blog’s career when it seems only prudent to populate it with lists of obscure or interesting words. Actually, this came about because I wanted to put something different on Twitter for the month of December – an advent of vocabulary instead of self-indulgent links. The result, my days of Christmas – a list of some of my favourite obscure words. Some of these are less common than others – some simply sound nice to say. They all come with examples, so you can use them wisely. Continue reading

What does your choice of tense say about you?

effective reflective writing, tensesMaking your point in as few words as possible is not all about choosing the right words. One area worth paying particular attention to is choosing the right tense. With a cover letter, a CV, a service history, and even with parts of a product description, you need to tell a story, no matter how short – and your choice of tense can greatly impact the meaning of your tale. Continue reading

Back to basics: all the English tenses

English tenses

Pursuing one of my other ventures, tutoring English, I’ve decided to combine my copywriting and teaching experience to produce a few simple English grammar guides. These guides are designed for foreign learners of English, but I wanted to share the first thing I produced, a tenses infographic, to discuss how the different English tenses work. Continue reading

2 classic style guides that will improve your online writing

improve online writing

Most English students in America, I’ll wager, are familiar with The Elements of Style. It was included in Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books, labelling it as one of the most influential books written in English since 1923. Why? Because it taught generations how to write with clear, concise language, and made simple sense of a lot of grammar rules. Students of language and business are also likely to be familiar with Writing That Works, noted in David Ogilvy‘s number one tip for improving your advertising: “read it three times” (also called “the Strunk and White of business writing” by Louis Begley). These books weren’t well known to me growing up in the UK, however, and they’re certainly not the first books I’d have turned to to improve my online writing. But the tips they give are as good as any modern work, reflecting my personal beliefs on direct writing. Their ethos of clear, concise language is a must in the internet age, where short but effective writing is in high demand. Continue reading

How not to advertise luxury hotels: copywriting examples

writing, copywriting, freelance, just working, what is a copywriter, copywriting exampleIn an ongoing effort to learn from real world copy, here’s two new advertising copywriting examples. This time, both for the same luxury hotel, both flawed. When advertising luxury goods and services, there’s a tendency for copywriters to use long, fancy words in an attempt to make the product seem sophisticated. And worse, a tendency to use long rambling sentences packed full of unoriginal adjectives. In the previous article I had one example of this style of copy, which did a reasonable job (if vague), but included mistakes. The more common problem with grandiose luxury text, though, is that it comes across as convoluted and messy, and uses forgettable clichés  as you’ll see in these examples. Continue reading

The Big Bad List of Business Vocabulary

typing, copywriting, freelance, writing tip, business vocabulary,Business vocabulary itself isn’t necessarily difficult to decipher, but you need to be sure how to use it. Often using sector-specific terms is the most efficient way to get across a specific point, and in business-to-business communication it will certainly be expected of you. Business English jargon may often be avoided, using general terms which may make your writing clearer to a wider audience, but it is frequently necessary to use the vocabulary that a client demands and a readership expects. To make sure you’re doing it right, I’ve trawled through my books and internet sources to compile one ridiculously long list of the most common business vocabulary, divided by industry, with definitions and some examples. As a sturdy reference point, this is a post worth bookmarking! Continue reading