You have to learn the rules before you can break them. At least that’s what our English teachers told us, and that’s what we teach about grammar in our Gracewriting workshops. But, is it okay to break the rules?
Now, some folks can be careless or even clueless when it comes to grammar rules. And, you have to be careful because random rule breaking can call your credibility into question.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who view grammar rules as absolutes and have heart palpitations over typos. Their goal is to make your writing perfect — which, by the way, it never will be.
So (brace yourself, Grammar Police!), we believe it’s occasionally okay to bend grammar rules.
Bending rules can demonstrate a command of language and an ability to wield it. These grammar and style choices are often about creating brand, voice or theme. To win work, we have to be great storytellers, and breaking a few rules can enhance your storytelling.
Need proof? Consider Charles Dickens, who was king of the comma splice. Or, there’s E. E. Cummings; he broke every capitalization rule on the planet. And, Jane Austen used double negatives. Gasp! These prolific writers occasionally made grammatical errors, and sometimes, they made those errors intentionally because they wanted to tell a great story.
Now, if your grammar rebelliousness distracts your reader, you’ve made a poor choice. Good writers know how and when to bend the rules. So, before you take that risk, ask yourself these questions:
Does breaking this grammar rule make my writing more conversational and reader-friendly? Writing conversationally can help you connect with your reader. You relax your style, and people feel more comfortable because you’re talking with them and not at them.
Have I considered tone of voice? Tone is a tough topic — context, culture and generation influence tone of voice. But, it’s safe to say a formal tone usually adheres more closely to traditional writing conventions, and in that situation, you should mind your grammar manners.
Does breaking this rule make my writing clearer? If adhering to grammar rules makes your writing more confusing, then it’s time for a little rebellion. Take, for example, Winston Churchill. Supposedly, an editor rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition. The Prime Minister, very proud of his style, scribbled this note in reply: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
So, Grammar Police, we appreciate you being guardians of the English language. We need you! But, there is grace in Gracewriting. Perhaps your writer isn’t careless or clueless. Perhaps his or her grammar rebellion is about better storytelling and connecting with the reader.