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Who’s v Whose

Every now and again, a good copywriter has to question their grammatical knowledge. We all do. Particularly in this age of spell checks and grammar tools on Word etc. It’s so easy to get a bit stale or question whether you are actually right in your opinion – especially when challenged by an account man (thanks Howard!). So here’s what I brushed up on this week:

Who’s is a contraction of who is and who has.

As a rule, look at the sentence you’re constructing and work out whether ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ is correct. If not, you might be better with ‘whose’, e.g.

“As somebody who’s never been kissed…”

Although less common these days, this means ‘who has’ in this case, so a contracted ‘who’s’ is correct.

Whose is a possessive form meaning ‘of whom’ or ‘belonging to whom’.

It’s also often used with inanimate objects, e.g.

The book, whose jacket had a picture of a pony on it, was dated from the 1950s.


Whose books are these?

Not black and white

This week’s copy conundrum came in the form of an email from an old friend. Strangely, people think that because you’re a copywriter, you suddenly know everything there possibly is to know about the English language.

I’ve had friends secretly vying to beat me at scrabble before now – albeit slightly drunken scrabble at that – just so they can say they beat the copywriter. It’s made me up my game, believe you me. Mainly because, I can’t claim any real expertise over other keen scrabble players. I’ve basically been winging it.

So how do you wing it when it comes to grammar? Well, luckily for me, my school actually taught grammar back in the day. But the English language is so wonderful and perverse, not everything follows a rule. This can sometimes come as a shock to people, as so:

Friend: Tricky!?  I thought the grammar game was all black and white!

Me: Yes Nige. It is tricky. This is why people pay copywriters to sort it out mate!

I’ve been going back to school recently through the eyes of my daughter. She is learning phonics which TEFL people may remember from their original courses. You sound out a word and hopefully it can be spelt as it sounds. Actually, this is ridiculous, because most English words don’t seem to be phonetic! Are they? Words like are and was, for example, would be spelled R and WOZ if that were true. These are what are known as grey areas (schools call them ‘red’ words and other fun things).

It’s thanks to all these numerous grey areas, that people like me can make a crust writing lovely company communications. So here’s my friend’s little copy conundrum:

“Apple was using multiple tools which were not integrated to its system properly.”

Why is it WAS and not WERE after Apple?

A good question eh? I’ll leave that one with you.

In the meantime, if you need a copywriter to be very black and white, decisive, incisive, creative and just good – as well as being a tea making machine – well, get in touch. I’d be happy to help.

Freelancing. Summer’s next big thing.

There are lots of reasons I chose to be a freelancer. For many, the road to freelance life often starts with a redundancy, a crisis of confidence and then the gradual realisation that a life as a flexible working professional could be a brilliant way forward. Some might say you’re better off progressing your career in a full-time position. I’m not so sure. I’ve managed to sidestep meetings about meetings and focus primarily on the task at hand: the craft of copywriting, and often, design.

For me, freelancing has been a one-way ticket to fast action, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, type stuff. And most copywriters love the variety their job gives them. So why wouldn’t you like that? In the past month, to name a few, I’ve written a lovely animation script for a global financial services client, a business-to-business newsletter for a world media giant and I’ve started helping a small business to get their communications off the ground. And tomorrow is sports day at school, so I’m able to nip down and cheer on my daughter’s house, before rolling back up the hill to an afternoon of long copy briefs.

So if you’re contemplating a summer of juggling out of school clubs and pick ups, or if you’re simply fed up with the same old same old, freelancing could be for you. It’s a great way to work flexibly. And yes, you can find yourself spend a lot of time chasing invoices or hunting down briefs, but everything has its downside. And now that the economy is rumbling back into business mode, things feel like they’re definitely on the up. So go on. Dive in this summer. The water’s…warm.

Copywriting tip no. 98

Get some help.

Whether you’re a junior copywriter or you’ve just thrown yourself into freelance waters, you’re going to need some help. It’s easy enough to knock on the invisible door of your Head of Copy, but in my experience, this is often busy being invaded by lots of other people all looking for similar pearls of wisdom (usually in the shape of an approval form or brief submission).

So here’s a little glossary of the more useful books I’ve come across on my merry copywriting way. Apart from advertising agencies, this journey has also included completing an English Literature degree, a CELTA certificate and a ‘Teaching English Literacy to Adults’ course.

Oxford Plain Guide to English, Oxford University Press
This is a brilliant pocket guide to have around. It covers all the sticking points of written English, such as bullet pointed lists and semi-colon usage. But it takes this further by covering things like Post Scripts, ways to write more succinctly and the basics of clear layout. I wouldn’t be without it, now or back in my junior days.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press
A great starter guide for junior writers who need an easy-to-use reference tool. For example, you can look up apostrophes or commas for a quick explanation about how they’re used. Definitions also show examples of words in situ, to back up your existing knowledge.

English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, Cambridge University Press.
This reference book was the must-have grammar guide on the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course. Like a TEFL, this course helps students brush up on their English grammar, so they can understand the challenges posed by newcomers to the English language. For copywriters, it’s useful for explaining to clients or account handlers why something has to be a certain way. So if you need a little help outlining why you’ve written ‘which’ and not ‘that’, this is the one to reach for.

Webster’s Grammar Guide
Shock horror, a mention for a US publication: Noah Webster was a grammar reformer in the United States in the eighteenth century. He published the first dictionary in America in 1828 and lends his name to the Webster’s Grammar Guide. It used to be a regular on English Literature degree lists and is the name behind the Merriam Webster US online site.

Just wanted to add a note about this. I might be old fashioned in saying this, but I believe everyone should have a paper dictionary to turn to for absolute clarity in case of a spelling concern. There are so many resources online, but it can be hard to know if they are accurate or if they are American English based, as mentioned above, where the rules can be different. To combat any uncertainty, it’s best to have a hardback reference tool to hand. I’m an Oxford University Press fan but Collins is a good name as well.

The online thesauruses are quicker to use and generally very useful, but there could be times when a brief requires you to name a product or initiative. This is when a hardback Thesaurus can be invaluable and lead you down routes you might not have otherwise discovered online.

This isn’t a definitive list, but it might be useful to someone, somewhere. If you have any other reference tools to share, please get in touch. I’d love to hear about them.