The Waterstreet guide to Grammar and email etiquette

Grammar and etiquette are important, especially when sending emails. If the primary way you communicate with someone is through email, you should make damn sure that each and every email you send portrays you in the brightest light possible. Every mangled, poorly conceived, poorly edited email you send makes you look like a fool. And no one wants to look like a fool. In fact, I pity the fool!

If you’re anything like the other 99.9% of the population (and at all like me) the very sight of the word grammar makes you sick. But fear not! This will be quick and painless.

1. Your friend, the comma
Commas are extremely easy to use. Easy, easy, easy. They’re the TV dinners of grammar. Virtually any sentence you write will have an idea or a topic. Some of those sentences, like this one, will have two topics. Separate those two topics with a comma. If you ever find yourself wondering whether or not a sentence needs a comma, read the sentence out loud. Commas give sentences a nice, easy flow.

2. Your enemy; the semicolon
Don’t use the semicolon at all. Just don’t use it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. For the purpose of any email you will ever send in your entire life, the semicolon might just as well be dead. Further, the more you misuse the semicolon, the more you will encourage others to misuse it as well. Please spare us all. Leave the semicolon at home.

3. Wherefore art thou paragraph?
Please refrain from talking about what you did last weekend, your new car, your cat’s surgery, your favorite blueberry muffin recipe, and your Christmas wish list in the same paragraph. If you do that, I won’t read any of it. I swear I won’t. Imagine if I called you and just started talking continuously, without breathing, for twenty minutes? Just imagine it, a full twenty minute stretch where all you heard was the sound of my voice in one constant, immutable stream. It would probably aggravate you, wouldn’t it?

Paragraphs are even easier to use than commas. When you’re done talking about one topic (the leg-lamp on your Christmas wish list, for example), hit the Enter button twice, and then start talking about the next topic.

4. There, their old friend

There used to be a lemonade stand at the end of their driveway, but they’re not allowed to sell lemonade there anymore.

5. There were a lot more then than there are now
Then and than. Yin and yang. Two evil twins plotting against you and your perfect sentences. While the two words may seem quite similar, they’re actually more than a world apart.

Then indicates time:

What shall we do then? What happened then? Then, the storm came and killed the entire townsfolk!

Than on the other hand, compares two things. For example:

Cigarettes seem shorter now than they used to be

And to cleverly combine the two:

Cigarettes seem shorter now than they were then

See what I did there? Pretty clever.

6. Stop shouting at me
This is a big one. When you end a sentence with ???? or !!!!, you’re essentially walking into my house with a sawed-off shotgun, pointing it at my head and demanding answers. Please don’t do it. It scares the children.

A quick example if you don’t believe me:

Were you able to open the PDF I sent you this afternoon??????

Is starkly different than:

Were you able to open the PDF I sent you this afternoon?

If you remain unconvinced, please imagine yourself standing in someone’s bedroom in the middle of the night, with a deranged look on your face and a sawed-off shotgun in your hand, screaming into their ear:


Whether you like it or not, that’s what you’re doing.

The exact same goes for the exclamation point. Though it has a different connotation, it comes across the same way:

I hope that rash clears itself up!

Comes across as far more caring and far less urgent than,

I hope that rash clears itself up!!!!!!!!!!!

I hope these few grammar tips will serve you well. Keep them in mind when you go to write your next email and I can guarantee you’ll be 100% less likely to enrage your unfortunate recipient.