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The Importance of Subject Agreement and Active Verbs in Social Media Writing

Credit: Dan Thesman / CNN

A Facebook post by a local news station caught my eye today. It read, "Authorities in California say a man's leg was severed by flying shrapnel while watching an implosion today in Bakersfield, and is in danger of losing his other leg."

According to this sentence structure, the man's leg was watching the implosion and the man's leg is in danger of losing his other leg. We know that the news outlet meant that the man was watching the implosion and that he risks losing his other leg, but some readers may have had to take a second look.

News editors often use the passive verb structure, in this case "was severed," to avoid placing blame. ("A subject was shot by police" instead of "Police shot a man.") It's clear in this story that the flying shrapnel severed the man's leg, so the passive tense is unnecessary and sloppy.

Let's take a stab at revising the post: "Authorities in California say flying shrapnel severed a man's leg while he was watching an implosion today in Bakersfield. He risks losing his other leg as well."

Why should you ensure that your subjects agree, and use active verbs? Not just to appease grammar geeks like me! Here's why:

  • Passive verbs and sentence structures add unnecessary words to your posts and make them longer. Statistically, shorter posts generate higher engagement. If you don't mind a longer post, tidying up your tenses makes room for additional information.
  • Active verbs make your writing more direct and exciting, and your calls to action clearer.
  • Subject agreement eliminates confusion. Yes, we may know what you intended to say, but subject confusion will make many fans re-read a post. Confusion drives down engagement in the form of retweets, favorites, likes and shares. (Although it might earn a comment or two from grammar-conscious folks.)


Social media is not an excuse for improper grammar. In fact, the short format and drive to create engagement make good grammar even more necessary!

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