Be a better writer in 15 minutes

Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice


There’s no denying it — the English language can be mighty tricky. When writing a paper, a novel or even an e-mail, you might look at a sentence you just wrote and think, “Is that comma supposed to be there?” or “Is that really the best word to use?” Fear not! TED-Ed has put together a list of four of our favorite grammar and language lessons to get your next piece of writing in tip-top shape.


First, let’s look at the often-confusing comma. It isn’t easy holding complex sentences together (just ask a conjunction or a subordinate), but the clever little comma can help lighten the load. How can you tell whether a comma is really needed? Terisa Folaron offers some tricks of the comma trade in this TED-Ed Lesson.

What about the Oxford comma? If you read “Bob, a DJ and a clown” on a guest list, are three people coming to the party or only one? That depends on whether you’re for or against the most hotly-contested punctuation mark of all time. When do we use one? Can it really be optional, or is there a universal rule? In this lesson, TED-Ed explores both sides of this comma conundrum.

Now, take an adjective such as “implacable” or a verb like “proliferate” or even another noun “crony,” and add a suffix, such as “-ity” or “-tion” or “-ism.” You’ve created a new noun. “Implacability,” “proliferation,” “cronyism.” Sounds impressive, right? Wrong! You’ve just unleashed a flesh-eating zombie. In this lesson, Helen Sword explains how few mistakes sour good writing like nominalizations, or, as she likes to call them, zombie nouns. Zombie nouns transform simple and straightforward prose into verbose and often confusing writing. Keep your nouns away from elongating nominalizations!

Finally, when it comes to good writing, don’t take the easy route! Instead, use this little trick to improve your writing: let go of the words “good” and “bad,” and push yourself to illustrate, elucidate and illuminate your world with language.

For more lessons on writing, grammar and linguistics check out our lesson series “The Writer’s Workshop” and “Playing with Language.”


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