Thursday, October 23, 2008

Don't Let Good Grammar Spoil Good Writing

Don't Let Good Grammar Spoil Good Writing By Philip Yaffe

If saying that good grammar can spoil good writing sounds like heresy, it was meant to. When I search the Web for writing tips, all too often the first bit of advice that comes back is "Be sure to use good grammar". But that's putting the cart before the horse. It's like telling a carpenter which hammer to use to drive in a particular type of nail. Very useful advice. However, this is a detail. It is valid only if the carpenter knows why he is putting the nail there and what will follow.

There is a second reason why this bit of advice is misplaced. One person's idea of good grammar is not necessarily another's.

The English language is not blessed (or cursed) with the equivalent of the Académie Française, a more or less official body in France that regulates the French language. Differences about correct grammar are sometimes hotly argued within the Académie, but outside their decisions are accepted as law. English grammarians also are continually arguing with each other. There is of course broad agreement on many things. However, when there isn't, you can pretty much do as you like.

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