Following grammar rules is not as straightforward as it sounds. In fact, you can receive widely different answers about what constitutes a rule depending on whom you ask. Grammar has been on my mind a lot lately because March 4th was Grammar Day. As a vital part of communication, grammar and how to apply its rules is incredibly important for everyone.
Lately, my focus has been on the practical application of grammar rules. How strict should I be in following these rules? Which rules am I following, anyway? These and many other questions plague my editorial decisions all the time.
At least once in your lifetime, you’ve probably come across two types of grammarians: rule enforcers and rule-breakers. The grammar police are infamous. Language offers no shortage of rules to enforce, and these folks do so with passion. However, rule-breakers are just as proud of their rebellion, flaunting their ways of bending or circumventing grammar rules. So, who is right? Or do both sides have it wrong? In the words of every good editor, it depends.
To Follow or Not to Follow?
Knowing when to adhere to a rule and when to break away is a very fine line that writers and editors must walk every day. Rules are rules, after all. If you want to share clear and understandable thoughts with your readers, rules are necessary. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose your voice or the sound of natural speech.
A writer or editor can’t just broadly apply a set of rules or style suggestions. Language is fluid and changes all the time. If you don’t believe that, attempt to read Beowulf in its original English. Not all rules and styles last, and sometimes that change makes the language better. It provides us with a way to communicate something more clearly or exactly to others than we could before.
But rules do serve a purpose. I don’t want you to toss your style guides out the window or burn your dictionaries. Some things are necessary. You’re most likely not writing for you, but your audience. You have a message you want to share with them. If a reader can’t understand it, what purpose does your writing serve? These rules are what make language work as communication. Grammar is necessary.
My point in all these ramblings is that caution is needed. Grammar, while not foremost in everyone’s mind, plays a key part in how communication works. The decisions you make about following or breaking rules will affect how well people understand you and receive your message. Grammar rules aren’t the end-all-be-all, but they help you make sure your voice is heard.