Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grammar & Punctuation – The “Rules” are Meant to be Broken

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Language is not static.

Language evolves over time. Words come en vogue (or are invented) and some words become passé or even archaic. As language changes, so do the “rules” of its use.

For example: someone says to you that “every sentence ends with a period and that rule will never change.”

Oh, really? That’s news to me!

Here are examples where a period does not end a sentence:

It ends with a question mark
It ends with an exclamation point
It ends with a colon

“Never start a sentence with a conjunction.”

But why not? This can be a personal preference or a “house rule” for a publisher or publication, but it is not a law and if you break it you go to jail. My husband, who also edits, follows this “rule” but I don’t. We still manage to have a happy, loving marriage despite this difference in our editing preference.

“Sentence fragments are wrong.”

Baloney. What kind of writing are you doing? I would say this is true for academic and professional writing, but in fiction writing, sentence fragments are allowed and even encouraged.

“I write like this because this is my style.”

Well, if your “style” is crap—mission accomplished! Don’t be dragged into this prima donna-esque attitude when trying to define your “style” to your confused, long-suffering editor. Your editor may know more about grammar and punctuation than you do, but that doesn’t absolve you, as the author, from your responsibility in taking the time to learn the elements of fiction writing as well as the “rules” of grammar and punctuation.

“OK, Miss Know-It-All-Editor. One minute you say it’s fine to break the rules and the next minute you say I have to follow them. Just what are you trying to tell me?”

My point is simple. Before you break the “rules,” you must know the “rules.” Relying on the spelling/grammar check on your computer does not count. A word processing program will record what you want it to record. It cannot tell the difference between your writing “style” and the grammar and punctuation “rules” coded in its program.

When it comes to writing fiction, a lot of the “rules” we learned (or should have learned) in school can be bent, stretched, and even broken—when the author knows when and how to do it and does it to create a certain effect or mood.

If you want to be a successful (i.e.: published) author, and have editors love you, take time to learn the grammar and punctuation “rules” of your language. Or, instead of calling them “rules,” call them nuances because by applying certain “rules” of grammar or the use of one form of punctuation over another, your writing will have more depth and more meaning. Your writing will have a certain nuance. Unless you know these “rules,” you won’t know the ones you can use and the ones you can do without.

One thing I learned in my years of education is that many of the “rules” of grammar and punctuation have exceptions. You won’t know this if you only deal in absolutes or you haven’t taken the time to educate yourself of this fact. You must discover what works best for you when it comes to conveying your message in your writing and, hence, develop your style.

If your publisher or editor follows the “rules” of a certain style book, you will be good to follow the same if you wish to work with them in the future. If your editor wants you to change something that you are not comfortable with, you should be able to explain the reason why you want to keep that item as written. The editor may have misunderstood what you are trying to say and will make suggestions to make it clear. Then again, you could be wrong in your reasoning (shocking, I know) and your editor will explain the reason why. It’s a give and take process.

However, despite all of this, I think there is one rule we can all agree upon that gives us hope when it comes to the sins and transgressions made in the editing and writing process.

Pobody’s nerfect.


  1. What a great post - and so true!

  2. Just tell an engineer that "pobody's nerfect" and see what kind of reaction you get! At least we can laugh at our foibles.


  3. There are three unbreakable rules of writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.

    Well, I do, and they have nothing to do with grammar...or little to do with it...only obliquely. They have to do with honing your craft, knowing your craft, and being professional. I have the fleshed-out version of those somewhere...probably in my editing class.


  4. LOL! What a fun read and good points well made. Thanks.

  5. Spelling and grammar are the tools of the writing craft. Not knowing how to use your tools properly could result in accident or injury.

  6. LOL! Yeah.... Injury as the mss bounces off your head?


  7. GREAT post! I'm a big fan of grammar and punctuation rules, but I'm the first to admit that breaking them can be fun, :-)

  8. Great post. What you said is true and I still have the grammar problem. I usually can't find my own mistakes, but usually someone else mistake.

  9. I loved this post. As a reader I would like to add that there is nothing more beautiful than a wonderfully crafted run on sentence. It may not be a "rule" but it should be.

  10. I have a 17 year old that I think has a talent for writing, but she struggles with grammar and punctuation. I have to edit all of her papers personal ones and ones she writes for school.

  11. I think it is alright to break the rules in fiction because sometimes you need to. It can help set up a scene.
    I also agree you should know proper grammer before you try to brake the rules. You won't understan why you would to break them if you don't know the proper form.

  12. I think geammer can be broken from the norm in writing fiction because you need it to convey a scene.
    I also agree you should know the proper grammer in order to break the rules or you won't understand the reasons why it is important to break the rules.

  13. LOL! Well said and in such a humorous way! Wonderful article


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