The 3 Rules you Learnt in School that will Improve your Writing

This article first appeared on the Skills Portal
Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 09:01
Author: Catarina Allison

Written communication can have a greater impact on our professional image than we realise. It assists in getting a message across to colleagues, staff, clients and community. By making even the smallest grammatical error, you could be portraying a message of unreliability, inaccuracy, and poor-quality service.

Here are 3 basic rules we learnt in school, which still apply in business:


Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences.  English generally operates under the SVO order (Subject – Verb – Object). Below we have examples of correct and incorrect SVO order:

The cat (subject) washes (verb) it’s paw (object) – correct                      

The cat (subject) washes (verb) their paws (object) – incorrect

Why is the second sentence above incorrect? Because the cat is singular and is only washing one paw, which is also singular.                             


There are 12 punctuation marks that are commonly used and using them incorrectly could change the entire meaning of the sentence. Ie: Lets eat Granpa! vs Lets eat, Grandpa! Have completely different meanings. So, unless you want to feast on your immediate family, I suggest you have a look at the correct use of punctuation, in the points below:

  • Full Stop (.) is used to indicate the end of a sentence, or after an abbreviation (Dr. Smith).
  • Question Mark (?) indicates a question by placing it at the end of the sentence.
  • Exclamation Mark (!) is used to show a sudden out-cry or to add emphasis.
  • Comma (,) can be used to indicate a pause in the sentence, listing items, or in a direct address (Thanks for helping, John)
  • Semicolon (;) connects independent clauses (ideas within a sentence), showing a closer relationship to the two sentences than what a full stop does.
  • Colon (:) either introduces a quotation, an explanation or a series / list of some sort.
  • Dash ( – ) can either be used to indicate a range (from 1980 – 1990), or can be used to emphasise  the conclusion of a sentence ( She gave him her answer – No!)
  • Hyphen (-) is shorter than a dash, and joins two words to create a compound term (back-to-back).
  • Parentheses ( () ) are curved marks which can be substituted by commas, and often add meaning to a sentence (John and Jane (who are brother and sister) are both tall).
  • Apostrophe (‘) can either show a letter has been omitted (can’t) or it shows possession (Sarah’s book).
  • Quotation Marks (“xxx”) indicate the start and end of a direct report of someone else (She said: “Don’t do that!”).
  • Ellipsis (…) usually shows an omission of words in a sentence, (One, Two, Three …. Ten).

The Rule of Concord

The very definition of the word ‘Concord’ means harmony, or agreement between people or groups. Using the rule of concord in our grammar is no different, it’s about finding the harmony between the subject and the verb (especially with regards to singular vs plural). This can be tricky, especially for second language speakers.

Below are two examples of correct vs incorrect use of the rule of concord, which we hope will assist you:

Example 1:

The pages (plural subject) is (singular verb) held together by a staple– incorrect          

The pages (plural subject) are (plural verb) held together by a staple – correct

Example 2:

The case of champagne bottles (singular subject) are (plural verb) for the year-end party – incorrect 

The case of champagne bottles (singular subject) is (singular verb) for the year-end party – correct

[A case of bottles is considered 1 unit]

Also remember to use a single verb when your subject conveys a single unit of time, money or distance. Below are three correct examples:

  • Ninety-Five cents is a bargain for a SIM card
  • Twenty minutes is a long time to wait
  • One hundred kilometres is a gruelling daily commute

It’s no wonder that English is one of the toughest languages to learn. KumaloGreen Training offers the Business Writing for Office Professionals course, where you will learn and practice these and other important English rules. Visit KumaloGreen for more info.

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