Grammar rules exist to help us communicate clearly and effectively. Yet digital communications — from Web articles to texts to social media — have led us all to be much more forgiving of traditionally bad grammar. But how far is too far? When should you break the rules, and when should you toe the line?
Here at Suite Seven, we’re fine with breaking the rules — but only if you break them with purpose. In fact, we encourage it when the end goal is to provide important things like improved clarity, scannability or sentence flow. (In other words, better readability.) We also support breaking certain rules in order to create a voice that will resonate with your customers or serve a stylish or artful end.
We’re not saying proper grammar doesn’t matter. It does. But language is a living thing that changes slowly over time. It starts with popular usage and ends with official sources like Merriam Webster and the AP Style Guide ordaining it so. In between is the gray area where you have room to play.
Today, there are rules that simply don’t matter so much anymore. Like these.
Suite Seven’s top 7 grammar rules you can ignore:
- Preposition at the end of a sentence. If you can easily move it to the middle, great! If not, don’t sweat it.
- Split infinitive. Same thing — if you can rewrite it, lovely. But don’t mess with readability for the sake of keeping an infinitive intact.
- “And” or “But” at the beginning of a sentence. Given the correct context and done strategically, this might be a great way to convey your idea.
- Sentence fragments. Fragments sometimes help provide the right cadence or emphasize a point. When used for an intentional or artful end, go for it. (But please don’t keep unintended fragments in final copy. It spotlights sloppy editing.)
- Who versus whom. Does anyone still speak the word “whom”? If so, we don’t hear it much. And by and large we don’t write it, either. Reserve only for the most formal writing, if at all.
- The distinction between “which” and “that.” It seems to have gone by the wayside. We don’t miss it.
- Numerals under 10 in headlines. Traditional grammar and style rules tell us always to write out numbers under 10. This rule is morphing. It’s OK (and for readability, preferred) to use numerals under 10 in headlines, subject lines or quick list titles.
As many of our “rules you can break” highlight, language is continually morphing. But remember: it doesn’t change overnight, and it doesn’t change just because a few people want it that way. When determining true change, let broad acceptance be your benchmark.
We’ve noticed a few recent grammar trends that have yet to get a strong hold. And especially with number two, we’re not so sure this is a bad thing.
2 grammar trends we’re not ready to accept – now, if ever:
- Numerals under 10 in body copy. Numerals under 10 in a headline, subject line or list title is fine. But we’re not entirely sold on using them in body copy. Especially in long-form (even on the Web), we prefer sticking with traditional grammar and style calling for spelling out any number under 10. We’ll understand if you feel differently. Just be consistent with your choice.
- Singular “they.” We’ve noted a recent trend using the singular “they” to avoid choosing a gender-specific pronoun. We find this sloppy. There’s usually a way to rewrite your sentence to avoid needing the pronoun altogether. If you’re stuck, alternate he and she to make your gender-neutral point.
When considering whether or not to break any traditional grammar rule, keep in mind context matters. Consider the medium (a Tweet can and should be more off-the-cuff than a white paper; the Web often favors scannability) and your audience.
In the end: clarity matters. You write to deliver a message. Make sure your message will be understood.