Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for Grammar

Everyone knows, or should know, that to succeed as a writer, you must know, respect, and obey the rules of grammar in your writing. If editors consistently find grammatical errors in your writing, they aren’t going to buy your work. Readers will point their fingers and laugh at you.

The purpose of grammar is to produce writing that is easy for the reader to understand. But sometimes there are writing situations in which inferior grammar makes for superior writing. A sentence that is tagged by grammar checking software may actually end up being the exact statement that makes your writing more compelling.

There's no way I could list all the rules of good grammar in a single blog post, so instead I decided to focus on half a dozen of the rules you can bend, if not break:

1. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Many people start twisting their sentences around so as not to end them with prepositions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the new wording is terribly awkward and painful to read. In the interest of clarity and readability, it’s all right to end a sentence with a preposition.

2. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction, such as “and” or “but.”
This rule even got screen time in the movie Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery and Rob Brown have an entire conversation about it. However, you don’t have to stick with it. It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to emphasize a point or give your writing a conversational tone.

3. Never split infinitives.
Go ahead and split your infinitives when doing so makes your meaning more clear or allows you to be more concise. “To go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go.”

4. Never use sentence fragments.
Nonsense! As long as most of your sentences have a subject and a predicate, feel free to use the occasional fragment for effect. No worries.

5. Avoid run on sentences.
Run on sentences can be used to convey great excitement or anxiety. It’s a wonderful rhetorical device in the right hands; however, in the wrong hands it looks like you should have paid a copy editor their well-deserved fee.

6. Never use slang or colloquialisms such as “y’all” or “ain’t.”
A bit of the vernacular can add color and flair to your story. It can also indicate class or region. The trick is in knowing when it will enhance and when it will distract.

Just remember, there’s a big difference between breaking the rules to make writing more successful and breaking the rules because you don’t know what the rules are. When a writer doesn’t know the rules of grammar, failure is almost guaranteed. But when a writer is well aware of the rules and breaks them consciously and strategically, the writing can become clearer and more compelling.

As the Dalai Lama once said, "Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively."

1 comment:

Megan Herbert said...

This is really informative. I have broken the "rules" sometimes in my writing. I have loved writing since I was a kid and back then my main issues with grammar were run-on sentences and changing tenses in a story (jumping back and forth between present and past tense). I've gotten better through the years and have learned that some rules are okay to break every once in awhile. ~Meg
Writer‘s Crossings