The 6 Toughest English Writing Rules – and How to Remember Them

English Writing Rules and Tips

In this article, online tutor Natalie S. shares her best tricks for remembering some of the toughest English writing rules…

Grammar isn’t for everyone. In fact, most people tend to forget the majority of their English grammar and punctuation lessons by the time they graduate from high school. Even though grammar tends to be a boring subject to learn about, it’s still important to understand and utilize grammar and punctuation rules correctly. These seemingly small details make a big difference in the quality of your writing.

Below are a few tips to help you easily navigate some of the trickiest grammar, punctuation, and overall English writing rules!


This is one of the most abused and misused punctuation marks in the English language. Semi-colons are used to connect two complete sentences (often called independent clauses) into one sentence. For example, “I went to the beach; it was too hot.” This single sentence shares one common idea (the beach) and contains one complete sentence on either side of the semi-colon. Pro tip: Try to split your sentence into two complete thoughts. If you cannot do it, a semi-colon doesn’t belong in your sentence.

Fewer Vs. Less

“Fewer” means a quantifiable number. For example, “I had three fewer items than Tom.” “Less” is used in a non-quantifiable situation, such as “I was less sad after eating chocolate.” Pro tip: If you can attach a number to the sentence and it still makes sense, you should be using the word “fewer.”

Who Vs. Whom

“Who” is a subjective pronoun, whereas “whom” is an objective pronoun.  Pro tip: If the word, “he” can be substituted into the sentence, use “who.” If the word “him” can be substituted into the sentence, use “whom.” For example, “Who went to the store? He went to the store.” “She bought an apple for whom? She bought an apple for him.”

Its Vs. It’s

This is one of the easiest English writing rules to remember, but it’s still one of the most common mistakes that people make. “Its” is possessive. For example, “The cat licked its paw.” “It’s” stands for “it is” and it’s an abbreviation.  Pro tip: To remember which one to use, try replacing the phrase with “it is.” Does the sentence still make sense? If yes, then you use “it’s.” If no, then use the possessive “its.”

Writing in Active Voice

Avoid sentences like, “Bob was chased by the crowd.” Instead, write, “The crowd chased Bob.” The first example illustrates passive voice. The second sentence is an example of active voice.  Using active voice makes your writing more compelling to read. Pro tip: If you can insert the phrase “by zombies” at the end of your sentence and it makes sense, you are using passive voice! For example, “Bob was chased by zombies.”

Ambiguous Pronouns

Pronouns can be used in place of nouns to make your writing flow better. For example, start with these three sentences: “Nancy went to the store. Nancy bought ice cream. Nancy bought oranges.” To make it flow, we use pronouns in place of Nancy: “Nancy went to the store and she bought ice cream and oranges.”  When using pronouns, be careful to avoid the ambiguous pronoun. For example, “Sarah went to Jenny’s house for a party. She had cake.” The pronoun “she” in the second sentence is ambiguous.

Pro tip: Ask yourself questions like, “Who had cake? Was it Sarah or Jenny?” to figure out how to correct the sentence. Technically, Jenny is the “she” in this sentence, but considering that the subject of the sentence is Sarah, the writer is actually intending to use “she” in place of “Sarah.” It should say something like, “Sarah went to Jenny’s house for a party, and she enjoyed eating the birthday cake.”

Writing assignments can be difficult; they require a lot of focused time and effort. If you remember and implement these simple tips and tricks, you will create writing that is easier to comprehend and more compelling to read.

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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