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Perfect grammar doesn't always mean perfect copy

Date: 
Saturday, December 9, 2017
milton keynes copywriter

“Obey all the rules and you miss all the fun”

Aaah ... the words of my favourite pin-up.
Katherine Hepburn was surely referring to, what else but, the rules of grammar?

Indiscriminate rule breaking isn’t easy to put up with.  There was a grammar specialist who I once knew.  A not unpleasant man, I would hear him claim, “the less rules you break the better”.  He would instruct me to never break the rules - none of them were to be broken.  The rules you should never break are those that keep meaning clear.  A pedant will say they always keep to good grammar.  And so should you.

Now, of course you know what’s happened there.  I’ve been merrily breaking rules.  In fact, in the space of 77 words, I’ve broken 10 of them.  To see which rules I’ve flouted, go to the bottom of the page.

The next question is ‘so what?’.
Provided we maintain clarity of communication, does it matter if, along the way, we break a few rules?

Much has been written on this vexed topic.  You wouldn’t thank me for assaulting you with a 5,000-word thesis.
However, here’s my take, in brief.

What matters is clarity, mixed with appropriacy, topped with a sprinkling of the aesthetic.  We can achieve this with a combination of study and practice.  Knowing when and how to break the rules enables us to write or speak ‘nicely’.  In so doing, we enhance communication, improve relationships and yes - we make the world a (very slightly) better place.

The rules broken in the passage above

1. Indiscriminate rule breaking isn’t easy to put up with.  Ending the sentence with a preposition.

2.There was a grammar specialist who I once knew.  Not ‘who’ - should be ‘whom’.

3. A not unpleasant man, …  tut-tut - a double negative.

4. A not unpleasant man, I would hear him claim, “…   This is the case of the dangling modifier.
The subject at the start of the second part of the sentence should match the one at the start of the first.
A classic case is in badly worded sales emails or letters e.g. “As a loyal customer of many years standing, I’m delighted to announce …”

5. “the less rules you break the better”.  ‘Rules’ are countable.  Should be ‘fewer’, not ‘less’.

6. He would instruct me to never break the rules.  Split infinitive.  Should be ‘He would instruct me never to break the rules'.

7. - none of them were to be broken.  Should be 'None of them is to be broken'.

8. The rules you should never break are those that keep meaning clear.  The word ‘that’ is missing.  Should be ‘the rules that you should never break …

9. A pedant will say they always keep to good grammar.  ‘they’ is plural.  Strictly, it should be ‘he or she’.

10. And so should you.  Starting with a conjunction and it’s just not a proper sentence - no subject/verb/object.

That's all for now.
Time for an evening of snoozing in front of the TV.
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