Sometimes, the right grammar sounds awful, and the sentence that feels right would bring the pedants out with pitchforks and torches. What do you do?
Well, the first thing is: don’t panic – you’re not alone. This is probably the oldest dilemma in the copywriting book… and the solution is so simple, I arranged a workshop to tell people about it.
In this short video, taken from that very presentation, I spill the beans – with some examples of ways to avoid using correct grammar that sounds weird.
Here’s (roughly) what I say in the video:
If in doubt… find another way to say it.
This is probably the thing that made me think about doing these talks. This is the copywriter’s oldest trick in the book, and what it means is this:
If you find yourself stuck in a position (which is surprisingly often) where the grammatically correct thing to say sounds wrong — just sounds weird — but grammar pedants will pick holes in the thing that you would naturally say and write, and you’re stuck in that Catch 22 situation…
Put the sentence down, walk away from it find a completely different way to say the sentence.
OK, shall we try some?
The Beatles was a phenomenon.
OK, this is arguable anyway because you can say bands are a singular or plural, but in this example let’s say The Beatles is a singular entity, with a plural name.
“The Beatles was a phenomenon” just sounds weird because a thing that sounds like a plural in this context is a singular. So how else could you say that?
“The phenomenon that was The Beatles.”
“The Beatles had a phenomenal impact.”
“Wherever you are in the world everyone knows the Beatles.”
There are a million different ways that you can say that without getting into this was/were kind of problem.
Let’s try another one.
After buying all these guitars, I have five thousand pounds fewer than before.
Oh, the beautiful fewer/less thing! That’s a pedant thing. “Less” is almost never a problem in real life, but some pedants just hate the word less to talk about a number rather than amount.
So less is for things where it’s kind of an amount of something; fewer is a thing where it’s numbers and things that can be counted.
So, how else could I say that?
“The guitars cost me £5000.”
“£5000-worth of guitar?”
Yeah, exactly — there are many different ways say that.
“These guitars cost me £5000.”
OK, I think we’ve got one more…
The Mitsubishis’ handling is excellent.
This is interesting because this is an actual example. And it’s not about the apostrophe and whether it’s a singular or it’s a plural.
This is could be about cars, but in this instance it’s actually about forklift trucks. And Mitsubishi, in their brand guidelines, say you can’t do use their name with an apostrophe S.
So, you can’t say “The Mitsubishis’…” because you can’t use the apostrophe… and you can’t pluralise it, so more than one, you can’t say “We have several Mitsubishis”. Their brand usage guideline says that you cannot say that.
How else could we say that, if we’re talking about Mitsubishi trucks?
“The Mitsubishi handles excellently.”
Or we could be talking about several of them, so it could be “The Mitsubishi trucks’ handling is excellent”, “Each truck benefits from the famous Mitsubishi handling” or whatever.
The point is: there are many different ways you can say it, so you don’t have to get stuck in a quandary.
Want more copywriting tips?
Check out the next video, and find out why you should write as if you’re writing to one person.
(Or watch the full Kung Fu Copywriting playlist here.)