Twitter syntax, just like any language, is organic. It is bound to evolve—indeed it has—as more people use it and add their vernacular quirks to it. On the flip side though, for every language, there is a set of grammar to make sure that different people can communicate using a uniform set of rules.
After tremendous response for A Guide to Having Fun on Twitter, I aim to make a rough grammar-book for Twitter. This is not a definitive guide, nor is there a definitive syntax for tweeting. What I’m presenting here are the norms: good and acceptable tweeting practices, learnt through my experience and observance of other professional Twitter users (tweeters).
It doesn’t really matter what you tweet about, but it is good manners to:
- Shorten your links.
- Tweet less than 140-characters if you wish to be retweeted (will be discussed later).
Try to use symbols or short phrases to make your tweets concise. Take it as a writing practice.
By using the @[username] syntax in a tweet, you are mentioning that person, and your tweet will show up in his mention-timeline:
I just found an article by @sheeradjafar on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
This is useful in including him in a conversation, or to direct your followers to his Twitter page (where they then can follow him).
Mentions will not work without the alias sign “@”.
Replies are preceded with @[username] of the person you wish to reply to. Most Twitter clients insert it automatically when you hit the “reply” button.
Say, if I want to send the tweet above to @hawayou:
@hawayou I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
3.1 Problems in Replying
Problems might occur when you want to tweet (but not reply) with a username in the beginning of the tweet:
@sheeradjafar has just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
The original tweet means that “Sheeradjafar has just written an article…”, however, it will turn out as a reply to Sheeradjafar with the message “has just written an article…”. As a consequence, some people who follow you, but do not follow @sheeradjafar, will not receive this particular tweet.
A common way to fix this problem is to simply rephrase your tweet so the username is not in the front (perhaps by using slashtags; will be discussed later).
3.2 Replying to more than one person
Simply put all the usernames to be replied to in front:
@hawayou @bukhariramli I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
Most of the time, it is acceptable to reply as a tweet (directed to all your followers), if you’re replying to the public or a lot of people and there is not enough space to include everybody.
3.3 DO NOT:
- Tweet to all followers to reply to just one person, even after affixing his username at the end of your tweet. Reply by putting that person’s username in front. Unless you’re CC-ing (will be discussed later).
- Reply by RT-ing. This is a very bad practice. (will also be discussed later).
4.0 Re-Tweeting (RT)
Retweet by prefixing RT @[username] [colon] to your tweet. This is also now mostly automatically done by the client:
(1) Original tweet by @sheeradjafar:
I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
(2) @hawayou retweeting the tweet above:
RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
If you wish for people to help you RT your tweet (for a cause etc), do affix a “Pls RT” at the end. More than one experiments have proven that people are more likely to help you RT if you just ask nicely.
4.1 Retweeting a retweet
You can do this by nesting the RT-syntax. For example, if I’m RTing the tweet above (2) by @hawayou:
RT @hawayou: RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
If you’d like to retweet something which has already been retweeted two-levels deep, such as the one above, it is acceptable to drop the “RT”s, so it becomes as such:
RT @zurairi @hawayou @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
The purpose of RT-ing is to share a tweet, and at the same time give credit to the original tweeter.
The new-style RT has made this obsolete, since only the 1st tweeter will be credited.
4.2 Adding commentary in RT
This is only possible in the old-style RT.
Leave your commentary before the RT:
Those look yummy! RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
4.3 DO NOT:
Do not leave your commentary after the RT, as such:
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu // Those look yummy!
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu << Those look yummy!
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu >> Those look yummy!
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu -> Those look yummy!
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu –Those look yummy!
- RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu (Those look yummy!)
The reason why it is important to commentate before the RT is so your followers will know who said which. Are the commentaries above by me, or was it by @sheeradjafar?
If you RT by appending, it might be misconstrued as said by the person you RTed, which will totally change the meaning of the original tweeter, and/or his intention.
Besides, there is no standard way to append commentary, as we have demonstrated above.
4.4 Abbreviating for RT
It is acceptable to abbreviate someone’s tweet for RT, especially when that tweet is too long (see Chapter 1.0, second point).
This is however, much trickier than it sounds. You need to shorten & abbreviate words so that the original tweet does not lose its meaning. You can do this by:
- Substituting words by symbols (numbers, “and” for “&”, etc).
- Using txt-style spellings. Some clients have features, like TweetShrink, that helps with this.
- Omitting irrelevant phrases, descriptors and/or sentence(s).
It is a bit hard to abbreviate without offending the original tweeter, so it will take a little bit of experience to achieve a balance.
Once again, you might want to consider new-style RT to keep the context for the original tweet.
4.5 RT in replies
You can RT something, which is intended as a reply to another person by combining the reply and RT syntax like such:
@hawayou Check out these macarons! RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
Don’t forget, reply username at front!
4.6 Twitter Faux Pas: Replying with an RT
This is a very frowned-upon practice in Twitter for its sheer inconsideration. It is one of my biggest pet hate in Twitter, and if you practise this, know that I view you with disdain and contempt every time you do this (as if you care what I think! Haha).
The only reason people don’t make such a big fuss about it is to keep a cordial relationship. It is also why I’m writing this: to let you know that it is bad manners.
What is replying with an RT? It usually looks like this:
Where’s my macarons? I gave you that inspiration! RT @sheeradjafar: I’ve just written an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
See, how I obviously wanted to reply to @sheeradjafar, but instead, I directed my reply to everyone else, by omitting reply-syntax, and using RT.
Why is this a bad practice?
- Not all followers want to read your personal replies. Yes, they chose to follow you, but for your insightful content; and subjecting them to this is just inconsiderate.
- You’re wasting space by inserting the RT in the reply. Surely the person you’re replying to knows what you’re talking about? (In extreme cases, you can use RT in replies, see Chapter 4.5)
- It shows how vain you are, since you’d want everyone to read every single thing you have to say. That’s just a jerk move, mate.
If you didn’t know before, now you do.
If you’re familiar with tags, then you shouldn’t have any problems. You use hashtags by appending your tweets with #[tags] or using it/them in your tweets:
I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu #food
I just found an article on #macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu
People usually use hashtags to:
- Keep track of a particular discussion, conversation or thread,
- Insert hashtag jokes, or
- Participate in memes…
…since it’s easy to search for hashtagged tweets on Twitter.
Put hashtags of every single inane thing in your tweet. You’ll look like an arsehole:
I just found an #awesome #article on #macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu #food #lol
Slashtags are pretty new, but I find it to be extremely convenient. They have gained acceptance among a lot of users lately; and were introduced by Chris Messina, the same dude who suggested hashtags.
Basically, they consist of the slash delimiter “/” and three “pointers”: “via”, “cc” and “by”.
You use them by stringing the pointers together after a slash delimiter, as such:
- /via @[username]
- /by @[username] via @[username] cc @[username]
- /via @[username] cc @[username] @[username]
etc and appending them to your tweets.
Why are they popular? They shorten tweets, such as, from “(via @hawayou)” to just “/via @hawayou”.
/via is used when you want to give credit to someone else for your tweet. It can also be used as an alternative to RT, or to quote someone:
I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu /via @bukhariramli
/cc works just like in the email, where you want to carbon-copy someone. With this, you can direct someone to your tweet, and get their attention. CC-ed person also is not expected to reply those tweets:
I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu /cc @hawayou
/by is used to give credit to someone for the tweet, like RT or /via, but it’s usually to denote that a certain link or article, is written by that person. It works like citation, to attribute the tweet to that person:
I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu /by @sheeradjafar
Or you can string them as:
I just found an article on macarons: http://bit.ly/6V5oBu /by @sheeradjafar via @bukhariramli cc @hawayou
You can read more about these slashtags here.
Once again, I hope you find this guide helpful and help you tweet better. By tweeting better, it will help remove misunderstanding and misquoting; or even increase productivity!
I’d like to say again, that this is not a definitive guide. As the grammar changes, I will make necessary changes to the grammar book. It is also not rigid, anyone can bend the rules—I sometimes do too—so don’t feel constrained.
Let me know in the comments if you disagree with any of the rules, or if I have forgotten anything. Corrections will be made as I find any mistakes.