The Grammarphobia Blog

Rules, schmules!

Q: Despite having slept through most of the grammar instruction tossed at me in grade school, I’ve become a writer – a restaurant critic. Notwithstanding my scholarly disregard for the subject, my respect for grammar has grown over the years, though I often break the rules in favor of a conversational style. What do you think of writers who disregard proper grammar to achieve a certain effect?

A: Writers who know the rules of English often bend them (quite effectively) for literary effect, and this is a long-established tradition. I always say, though, that you have to know the rules before you can bend them!

An educated reader can always tell the difference between a writer who’s clueless and one who’s being creative within (or just outside) the limits of acceptability.

But a lot of so-called rules, as you probably know, are only superstitions. It’s perfectly correct, for example, to begin a sentence with a conjunction (like “and” or “but”).

The belief that it’s incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction is one of the most persistent myths of English grammar. It’s right up there with the misconceptions that it’s wrong to “split” an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition.

I’ve already discussed these items on my blog. If you’re interested, here are links for the beginning conjunction, the “split” infinitive, and the ending preposition.

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