So many rules. So many exceptions. Should authors pay more attention to content or to grammar? Read on.
Why are there grammar rules?
The English language we use for writing is derived from quite a few sources, some of them quite old. And the grammar rules we use come from all of these sources, and originated to make it easier to communicate. They were an attempt to somewhat standardize those languages so both writer and reader understood the text the same way.
They still serve the same purpose. Sadly, however, many writers were never effectively taught these rules—or they never learned them. The result? Their writing appears as a garbled collection of words that fails the purpose of writing—communication—making a message “common” between two or more people.
Exceptions to grammar rules
Because of the diverse origins of grammar rules, and the influence of time, there are numerous exceptions. Probably the most famous is the ‘I’-after ‘e’ spelling rule. You know: “‘I’ after ‘e’ except after ‘c’ or when sounded like ‘a’ as in neighbor and weigh.” But what happens with words like veil, science, and sufficient?
But there are other rules, such as placement of subject, verb, and object. And where modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) go, with respect to the word or phrase they modify. And there are the “ever popular” rules about comma usage. And so forth and so on.
Breaking grammar rules
Ineffective writers break the rules because of ignorance—not knowing or understanding them. Effective writers learn the rules, and understand why and when to bend or break them. That’s what makes their writing interesting and alive.
Learn the rules
There’s an ancient legal principle that goes something like “Ignorance (of the law) is no excuse (for breaking it).” The same is true for grammar rules. If you’ve never seriously studied the rules, and you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you should invest in a study course (books, classes) to learn them. Don’t just look them up when you get stumped—or caught. You can then bend or break the rules with knowledge, which will give your writing your personal style. The Chicago Manual of Style is a great desk reference to have, along with your dictionary and thesaurus.
Will your writing ever be perfect?
The simple answer is “no”. Unless you’re writing a fairly short piece, it’s likely that you’ll introduce typos and grammar gaffs. That’s why writers need editors. But in reality, a writer’s main goal is to get words down on paper—to communicate a message, to entertain, to inform, etc. But that doesn’t exempt writers from critically re-reading their work for errors—sometimes involving multiple read-throughs—and knowing at least the most significant grammar rules.
Bottom line, if you who want to effectively communicate with an audience, you need to know and understand grammar rules. If you then break one or more of them, and are doing so for effect, that’s fine. However, if you end up losing readers in the bargain, you may want to re-think this issue.
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