Editing Tips: Defy Grammar Rules

That’s right. Everything you learned in your English class is a farce.

Ok, not really, but consider what exactly grammar rules are: a set of acceptable communication practices determined by a bunch of (white) men. Not knowing the rules is seen as ignorance, not applying them as indolence, breaking them as insolence.

Frankly, it’s elitist, racist, and, in many cases, sexist.

I argue, and I mention it a lot because it effects the world so significantly, language is changing due to technology and globalization. More than ever, peoples of varying origins, intelligence, skill level, and maturity are coming together in this massive forum and speaking. We’ve seen OMG and LOL become part of our regular vocabulary, but that’s just the beginning.

Anyway, I digress.

Writers in this new era are finding more effective ways of communicating that may or may not follow the rules of grammar. For instance:

  • Beginning a sentence with a conjunction. And not even caring about it.
  • Using punctuation for dramatic effect, which is So. Last. Year.
  • Using contractions even when you’re writing formally.
  • The singular “they” (which everyone has always used whether they admit it or not).
  • Ending sentences with prepositions, which was formally unheard of.
  • Incomplete sentences. Whenever. Wherever.
  • Run on sentences that are intended for humor or purposely overwhelming the reader so they understand just how important the statement is.
  • Double negatives that don’t invalidate the positive.

Even some of the rules I have addressed in this series have exceptions.

  • That can be used to soften language, maintain cadence, and avoid confusion in a way that seems almost undetectable.
  • In my opinion and very can usually be left out, but both can be vital to emphasizing for the sake of simplicity. In my opinion, if something is very important, using essential or crucial may not have the desired impact.
  • Sometimes you need to give the reader a break. There are many ways to do this, but using there are and this is and it is are conversational and soft.

The rules for effective writing are firm, but pliable. The key is communication. Are you effectively communicating? How do you know?

Once you’ve set your audience and goals, you can better determine which rules to follow and which to break and when.  What do you want them to think or not think? Who do you want them to think the speaker is? How engaged do you want your reader to be? What voice do you want to have?

Write intentionally. Know the power of each word. Understand how every word and letter works in context. Continue learning about the meaning of words and word combinations.

Seems like such a waste to learn how to write only to unlearn it, but learning only to defy can be transferred. How else would we get great works of art, inventions, discoveries and revolutions?

Someone wasn’t satisfied with the rules someone else made, and they broke them. But most of the time they knew the inside of the box well before they thought outside it.


5 thoughts on “Editing Tips: Defy Grammar Rules

  1. I’ve definitely noticed my grammar isn’t just more relaxed on my blog. I wonder how we’ll teach children grammar in the future. Most of the time I spend writing, I am either posting on WP or social media so different rules apply. Are we going to start teaching proper hashtag use or blog post format? I know that sounds silly but a lot of businesses and even creative people need good, solid writing skills that are catered to an online audience. Sorry for rambling but I really enjoyed your post.


    • Thanks for the comment, Buffy!

      It only sounds silly to some people. It makes absolute sense to me. I don’t know how in to Facebook you are, but I constantly see suggestions (in the form of criticism) on how people should use Facebook. Says who? There are no rules! We are making them up.

      In my time I have seen Wikipedia go from being scorned as unreliable to being a source for ground knowledge and a launchpad for further research. And it’s organic changes, too! It’s user centered, which means we have control. Sort of. When you’re talking about we as in 7 billion people, it feels much less democratic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your post! Being a speech-language pathologist with an English degree has given me a unique view on this subject and my therapy. Working with language disorders (and more interestingly social language disorders) involves a lot of communication surrounding communicative intent and lessons on perspective taking. I’ve always been in the “language and grammar are evolving” camp. And not having a non-gendered third person singular is just ridiculous! This was even more annoying before I knew the sex of my baby. Should I call my unborn child “it” and give the sense that I’m carrying around a little non-human, “they” and imply multiples, or “he or she,” which takes longer, with the often unintended side effect that people think you’re judging them with your political correctness?
    Anyway, there’s a time and place for poetic license in prose; being mindful about it is the key.
    Preach it.


  3. Interesting thoughts, as always. I think of grammar ‘rules’ as similar to those an architect learns before designing a house. You need to know the basic form to understand what’s going on – and so the walls don’t fall in. Then, you create. I moved enough during my school years that I always missed the main grammar classes. Instead, I learned much of how to write from reading. When I’m teaching a writing class, I mention that the basics are necessary so that readers aren’t lost or so caught up in the different style of the writer that the content or purpose is lost. How you adapt them is up to you.


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