Perfect grammar can lose you sales online

Imperfect grammar could help your sell moreBritish MPs yesterday were quizzing business leaders during a session of the Public Accounts Committee where the the Chief Finance Officer of Starbucks, Troy Alstead, was denying that the company was involved in tax avoidance. Now, you may think that the tax affairs of Starbucks, Amazon and Google in the UK are acceptable or otherwise, but what psychological research suggests is that the first sentence of this blog post is more likely to have made you feel negative than if I had said: “British MPs yesterday quizzed business leaders where Troy Alstead from Starbucks denied that the company was involved in tax avoidance”.

The first sentence of this blog post uses the “imperfect” grammatical form, whereas the alternative sentence uses the “perfect” form. New research from the University of Alabama shows that the grammatical form of sentences affects our emotional response. When the item is likely to make us feel negative – as in the case of big business taxes – the imperfect form allows that negative feeling to carry on, helping us continue to feel bad about the situation. But the perfect tense isolates the negative thing into the past, making us fell less negative about it.

The researchers found the opposite response when it came to positive things. If you want people to continue to feel positive about something then using the imperfect grammar allows people to continue to feel positive, whereas the perfect form shuts the positive thing away in the past, making your readers feel less positive than they otherwise might.

When it comes to selling  things online this can help you write the best sales copy. To accentuate the positive aspects of your products or services make sure you use the imperfect grammatical form and if there is anything negative or something which could induce a negative feeling, then use the perfect form. Here’s an example:

Delegates at my workshops were telling me recently that they are continuing to benefit from what they had been learning. The two-day event excelled, in their view.

In this example, the positive of the continued benefit of the learning experience is accentuated by the imperfect tense, where as the negative of having to be away form the office for two days in the perfect tense is made less negative than it might otherwise be.

The careful use of the imperfect and perfect grammatical form in your sales copy could help influence the number of buyers you will be getting.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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Graham Jones

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