Do Users Care About Grammar? Part 1
Firstly, YES, people care about grammar. Everyone has different standards, but everyone wants to understand what the hell you’re trying to say. Following grammar rules standardizes language enough to communicate effectively. The more closely you follow the rules, the more likely people will get what you’re saying.
Why grammar is important for your business
When it comes to writing content for your business website, you want the reader to believe you know what you’re talking about. Whether your topic is foundation repair or warehouse sorting systems, your readers are more likely to trust your knowledge if it’s presented well.
Grammar is important in helping people understand what you do and instilling confidence in your abilities to do it. When it comes to writing content for your business website, you gain authority by having quality content showing anyone who reads it you’re capable and educated on the given topic.
It’s also important to understand grammar can impact page rank. Google’s John Mueller at one point stated Google doesn’t actively penalize websites for bad spelling or grammar, but he added that all the top-ranked websites had error-free content. And although it’s easy to forget sometimes, Google isn’t the only search engine people use. Bing, for example, does look at the grammar and spelling of websites.
It all comes down to user experience and how that impacts your rankings. Google’s algorithms don’t measure your comma usage, but they can detect when users have a bad experience and no one is likely to linger on a website that’s riddled with errors.
There are plenty of guides for how to write content for the web answering questions like “how many times do I need to have a keyword on a web page?”, but few of them go into the basics of grammar. Considering most folks haven’t had much of a grammar lesson since middle or high school, reminders can be helpful. Hell, I majored in writing and I still can’t tell you exactly what a preposition is without looking it up first.
So let’s dive right into today’s topic: split infinitives and dangling participles.
Let’s talk participles
A dangling participle is more than your new favorite penis euphemism, it’s a pretty common grammar mistake.
First refresher—what is a participle? Participles are verbs acting as adjectives or parts of verb phrases that create the verb tense of the sentence.
Example: The abandoned house. “Abandon” is a verb, but is functioning as a descriptor of the word house. Boom, that’s a participle.
Participles can come in participial phrases (I swear, I’m doing my best to keep the jargon to a minimum here). Participial phrases include the participle and the objects or complements related to it. That’s a VERY simplified definition, so let’s just go right into examples.
The gutters attached to the house need to be kept clear of debris. “Attached to the house” is the participial phrase that modifies “gutters.”
Having been anesthetized, you will need someone to drive you home from the appointment. “Having been anesthetized” is the participial phrase modifying “you.”
Most dangling participles are participial phrases.
So what is a dangling participle?
When a participle dangles, it means the noun it’s supposed to be modifying isn’t there. Dangling participles aren’t always fatal to people’s understanding of your sentence, but they do absolutely change the meaning. Most often, dangling participles occur at the beginning of a sentence.
Waltzing to and fro across the stage in a beautifully choreographed dance, the audience will marvel at the ballet dancers’ deft movements.
Currently how this sentence is written, we don’t know what is waltzing to and fro. I have to add in the right noun. Corrected, this would say:
The ballet dancers waltz to and fro across the stage in a beautifully choreographed dance at which the audience will marvel.
You could correct the sentence in a few different ways, but the important thing is to place the modified noun right before or after the participial phrase. In this case, it means placing “ballet dancers” directly in front of “waltzed to and fro.”
A word on misplaced modifiers
Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles are both common modifier mistakes. They’re so similar, in fact, that if you try to Google it after reading this, you’ll probably find at least a few contradictory definitions (speaking of Google, here are some great tips to get the most out of your Google searches!).
The hard line is that a misplaced modifier changes the wrong noun in the sentence, and a dangling participle’s intended subject is missing from the sentence entirely.
From my experience, misplaced modifiers are the most common modifier mistake you’ll have in your website writing. I think dangling participles are rarer because it’s more noticeable when a subject is missing compared to just being too far away from the modifier.
Here are some examples of misplaced modifiers:
When walking into our office, our greeter will make you feel welcome.
Because the noun closest to our participial phrase is “our greeter,” it makes it seem as if the greeter is walking into the office. That’s the wrong noun. Written correctly, the sentence would be:
When you walk into our office, our greeter will make you feel welcome.
Now the subject, “you,” is directly in front of the participial phrase, so the sentence makes sense. Yeehaw! 🤠 Now let’s do one where the participial phrase isn’t at the beginning.
Consider gifting one of our fine products to your coworkers wrapped in our newest recycled wrapping papers.
Look, I don’t know what kind of stuff your coworkers like to get into, but for the sake of this sentence, we know they’re not what’s supposed to be wrapped in recycled wrapping papers. The sentence should say:
Consider gifting to your coworkers one of our fine products wrapped in our newest recycled wrapping papers.
Let’s look at a couple more misplaced modifiers you may find on your business website.
Glazed with homemade barbecue sauce, you’ll love our famous ribs!
In this sentence, your reader is what you’re describing as being glazed with homemade barbecue sauce. If folks want to enjoy some good ribs after slathering themselves with barbecue sauce, more power to them. But that’s probably not what you’re talking about on your website. You want “ribs” to be closer to the words you’re using to describe them.
You’ll love our famous ribs; they’re glazed with homemade barbecue sauce!
Boom, now there’s no confusing what you’re trying to say. You’ve got ribs, and they’re glazed in homemade barbecue sauce. Sounds delicious. Let’s try another.
Hyperpigmented from sun damage, our treatments restore your skin’s radiance.
Same thing as the other examples. In this sentence, I’m saying the treatments offered are hyperpigmented from sun damage. I need to move the word “skin” closer to the participial phrase.
If your skin is hyperpigmented from sun damage, our treatments will restore its radiance.
As you can see, the second makes a lot more sense. No dangling bits in that sentence!
While we are talking about participial phrases, I HAD to bring up participle clauses. This one is dear to my heart—I use a ton of participle clauses and SOME writers think you shouldn’t use them at all. But those people don’t know what they’re talking about 😉 This is because participle clauses give us a good way of presenting information with fewer words. Here is an example:
We will listen to your every concern, taking thorough notes throughout the initial meeting.
I want to make sure my reader knows we are going to be taking notes while listening to their concerns. The participle phrase allows me to do that in the fewest amount of words. Otherwise, the sentence would need to say something like:
We will listen to your every concern throughout the initial meeting, and we will take thorough notes.
Good writing needs a mixture of both kinds of sentences, but the rule of thumb is to use as few words as needed. There are also situations, like when you’re writing meta descriptions, where best practices are going to limit the amount of characters you can use.
Split infinitives: To use or not to use?
Split infinitives are not actually a grammar mistake, so if someone tells you they are, just direct them to me and we’ll have it out. Some old fashioned grammar pros will insist that you should avoid split infinitives, and you certainly don’t want them in every sentence. That doesn’t make them wrong, however. Avoiding split infinitives can make your language less specific. It can even entirely change the meaning of your sentence.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say if it’s good enough for Captain Kirk, it’s good enough for anyone. Now the question: To boldly go, to go boldly, or boldly to go deeper into this grammar lesson? I think the answer is clear.
What’s an infinitive?
I’m including split infinitives with dangling participles because, like a participle, an infinitive is a verb that doesn’t function as a verb. Infinitives are verbs functioning as nouns. Here is an example of an infinitive:
You’re going to want to eat our famous ribs.
“To eat” is an infinitive. “Eat” is a verb, but “to eat” in this sentence is describing a thing you want.
When you split an infinitive, you place a word or phrase in between the “to” and the rest of the infinitive. Here are a couple of examples of split infinitives:
Our specialists have studied extensively to better understand the effects of soil erosion.
We ask you to kindly come with us on this journey.
In these sentences I split infinitives “to understand” with “better” and “to come” with “kindly.” And you know what? My fancy online grammar checking tool flags “to kindly come” as a split infinitive and cautions me against using it. Too bad the entire argument against split infinitives is super old and a bunch of made up bullshit based on Latin languages. English is an Anglo-Saxon language, so Latin rules don’t apply and don’t need to apply.
Some guides will suggest you avoid using split infinitives just because it may not consider them “formal” writing. But let’s look at our examples and consider what happens when we change the sentence to avoid a split infinitive.
Our specialists have studied extensively better to understand the topic. Or, Our specialists have studied extensively to understand the topic better.
The first option makes no sense at all. Just, no ✋ The second option sounds okay, but ending the sentence with “better” gives it a less polished feel. “To better understand” is a pretty well-known example of a split infinitive because it is the best way of saying what it means. Now let’s look at the next example.
We ask you kindly to come with us on this journey. Or, We ask you to come kindly with us on this journey.
The first option changes the entire meaning of the request. In that sentence you are asking them kindly, when the original intent was for them to give you the kindness of coming along. The second option is less clearly wrong, but the implication is still off from the original message and it doesn’t sound quite right.
Let Lifted Logic help with your content
When you’re writing content for your website, pay attention to your grammar to ensure you’re painting the clearest and most enticing picture.
But not to worry. Lifted Logic has a full content team ready to help you get the most out of your writing. We may be in love with the web, but we’re also in love with good grammar. Our hearts are big, okay?
We are a digital agency in Kansas City offering a range of services. From helping you develop the finest SEO and content this side of the Mississippi to jaw-dropping custom web design, we’re the nerds you want on your team.
To get started, contact us or use our free cost calculator tool.