Are You Breaking the Rules of Grammar?

Are you breaking the rules of grammar?When is it acceptable to break the rules of grammar? When you’re writing direct response copy. That covers anything from catalogs and direct mail packages to e-mail messages and Web sites.

As most of us who specialize in this field of writing will agree, our job is to entice prospects to make a purchase . . . click on the “buy now” button . . . pick up the phone . . . mail in an order form. Sometimes that involves breaking the rules of grammar, using sentence fragments or content that’s more conversational than prose.

If we accomplish this goal but saying “you’ll” instead of “you will,” or by starting a sentence with “Because,” I think you’ll forgive us if it means you see an increase in sales.

Clayton Makepeace put it this way, “ Remember those rules you learned in elementary school about proper grammar and punctuation? Well I’ve got good news for you . . . . Just throw the rules away.”

“When you’re writing sales copy, you need to speak to prospects in a way that they’re used to being spoken to and in the same way that they speak to other people.”

Herschell Gordon Lewis explained it as “increasing informality” – one of the copywriting trends for the 21st century. He said “We write the way people talk. It’s not “I shall,” it’s “I’ll.” It’s not “We will,” it’s “We’ll.” This is the way people talk. That establishes that magical word, “rapport.”

As fellow writer Bob Bly said, “The goal of direct response copywriting is not to produce perfect prose. It is to persuade the consumer to buy your product, and a copywriter should do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

According to Connect Direct, “Lines that begin with “and” or “but” create a sure-fire recipe for sentence fragments. But they play a frequent role in direct marketing copy by a) compelling the reader to proceed to the next thought, and b) adding emphasis to an important thought or idea.”

“The goal of direct response copywriting is not to produce perfect prose. It is to persuade the consumer to buy your product…” – Bob Bly“

“Think about the voice of a direct mail piece that successfully sold something to you. I’m talking about the one that made you feel you had to have that new kitchen tool, health supplement or book that would change your life. What was so special about the writing? Was the grammar perfect? Was it formal English? Was it enjoyable to read?” wrote Massachusetts-based Albert Saxon.

“….it’s time to start writing to your prospect. Don’t worry about grammar or the rules, just carry on a conversation,” he continued. “…. be as convincing as possible and write until you are certain that you have them sold.”

Of course, as copywriters we don’t throw absolute caution to the wind and forget about spelling or using words properly (such as “affect” vs. “effect”). After all, we are professionals. How we get the job done may be different than what our grammar teachers taught us in school. BUT, we get the job done.

How about you? Do you get the job done and did you break the rules by doing so? Let me know in the comment section below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks a million!

Debra Jason

Marketing & writing with heart, not hype at at The Write Direction
A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.


  1. Loving the blogs on here 🙂 Just finished reading this one and the tips for when you get writers block.
    One HUGE compliment I received from a blogger was that I write the same way I speak… which may be why my emails end up so long!

    • Mandy, thanks for taking the time to not only read the blog posts, but to comment on them as well. Much appreciated.
      One of the pointers I often give is to write in a conversational tone – as if your prospect/customer was sitting across the table from you.
      Glad you received positive feedback from one of your blog readers about your style. It’s great to get feedback that lifts you up, isn’t it? Makes you want to keep on keeping on.

  2. Great article! I need to retweet it in a sec. 🙂

    One of my clients was concerned about copy I wrote for a project…indeed some sentences began with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ I explained things pretty much as you have in your post, and it took a while for her to let go of the grammar rules she had imprinted in her mind (by a stern, high school English teacher, no doubt) but finally she came around!

    • Cassie, I greatly appreciate the RT. It can be challenging for clients to grasp that writing copy is different than writing am essay for your English teacher. Of course, as always, it does depend on the audience you’re targeting. If they’re school teachers, then best to communicate by dotting your “i”s, crossing your “t”s and making sure it reads correctly. I’m thrilled that your client finally recognized & acknowledged the value of your work. You go girl! Thanks again. ~Debra

  3. This is spot on, Debra. When I break the rules in my blog and sales pages, I’m doing it intentionally.

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