Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing today. This was mostly because, after reading this old online newspaper article about how introverted people are supposedly stricter about grammar than extroverts are, I ended up thinking about my own use of grammar.
Because, despite being something of an introvert, I really don’t give a damn about “bad” grammar most of the time. As long as I can understand what someone is trying to say, the grammar doesn’t usually bother me.
Plus, even though many of the basic rules of English grammar are instinctive to me, some aspects of it just seem to linger in that nether region between boring and confusing (eg: grammatical terminology such as “participle phrases”, “subjunctives” etc..) and some aspects of it just seem slightly pointless to me.
In fact, I’ve found that I’ve actually started to come up with some of my own grammatical rules (eg: I often italicise bracketed text whilst typing, I always use “it’s” instead of “its” etc..). Whilst this would probably infuriate grammar purists, there’s certainly a case for making up your own grammatical rules. Well, within reason anyway….
So, here are a few things to think about if you want to change the rules of grammar…
1) Practicality: The first thing that I will say is that modifying the rules of grammar slightly should only be done for a good practical reason. This isn’t something that you should do just for the sake of it. But if some subtle and intuitive tweak to the “rules” makes your writing faster and, more crucially, more readable – then go for it!
For example, I tend to use brackets a lot. I love the idea of adding extra context and examples to sentences. Yet, I’m also very aware of the fact that too many brackets in a piece of text can quickly turn that text into a confusing and unreadable mess.
So, the easiest way to deal with this whilst typing is simply to differentiate these parts of the text by putting them in italics (like this) so that readers can instantly tell at a glance whether something is part of the main text or not. I also use a similar version of this rule for typed dialogue and quotes too.
Likewise, the rule about “it’s” and “its” has never really made sense to me. In fact, I didn’t even really know that such a rule existed until I was in my twenties. To me, it just seems considerably simpler and more practical to use “it’s” for all uses of the word (eg: as a contraction of “it is” or as something belonging to “it”).
Since I often write fairly quickly, it’s often easier to just use one version in all contexts rather than spending ages worrying about which one I should use. Likewise, since the meaning is fairly clear from the context, it probably isn’t too confusing to anyone reading it.
So, if you’re going to change the rules of grammar, make sure that you have a good practical reason for doing so.
2) Meaning: If you come up with a slightly different grammatical rule, then it’s meaning has to be at least slightly obvious from the context. After all, if your change requires a long explanation to be understood, then it’s probably just “bad grammar”.
After all, the whole point of grammar is to make language more readable more quickly. It exists so that we don’t have to spend too long deciphering what a piece of text means.
So, any changes you make to your grammar must be subtle enough that their meaning can easily be worked out at a glance. This is similar to how new words enter the English language. When a popular new word appears, it’s meaning is usually fairly easy to work out from the context it appears in. If the meaning is less obvious, then the chances of a new word becoming a major part of the language decrease sharply.
For example, Donald Trump accidentally coined the word “covfefe” last year. This word originally appeared as “…negative press covfefe” and it was probably just a spelling mistake since, in that context, “coverage” is the only similar word that would work in that sentence.
Yet, the new word briefly became popular as an internet joke. But, “covfefe” is unlikely to become a major part of the English language (in the way that newer words like “Brexit”, “selfie” etc.. have) for the simple reason that it doesn’t really have a clear meaning that is easy to work out from either the word itself or the way it is used. Likewise, it is also difficult to pronounce or read quickly too (at the time of writing, my current pronunciation of it is “cof-fay-fay”)
So, if you’re making a change to the rules of grammar, then make sure that your audience can easily work out what you’re trying to do (without having to waste time looking for an explanation).
3) Spontaneity: This probably sounds counter-intuitive, but don’t try to change the rules of grammar. Language evolves through practical use (typically, spoken forms of a language also take precedence over written forms). As such, good changes to language often happen fairly intuitively because they just seem easier to use.
For example, hardly anyone uses the word “cannot” in everyday speech any more, since it’s easier to just shorten it to “can’t”. This change also involves the use of a grammatical rule (eg: using an apostrophe to signify a contraction) too.
This grammatical rule came into being because it was a quick way to signal that a word had been abbreviated.
When you come up with your own grammatical rules, they shouldn’t really be too much of a conscious choice. They should just be something that seems intuitively easier or more understandable. They should be something that you don’t even notice that you’re doing at first because it just seems obvious to write in that particular way.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂