You’ve run upon the Grammar Nazi before. That frustrated English major whose only comment on your blog about your content is about the way you split an infinitive or used a run-on sentence that would make Faulkner blush.
But what about all those rules you learned in Composition 101? Which of those rules apply in real world writing?
Well, some of them always do. You really must know the difference between your and you’re. Or their, there and they’re. You need to be able to spell. And subject-verb agreement is important. You wouldn’t say, for example, “I were in a hurry.” Stuff like that.
And when you are doing formal writing, say, a grant proposal, or a nomination for a Nobel Prize, dust off your English book and follow all the old rules.
But for everyday writing, such as for blog posts, marketing copy and novel writing, you want your voice — your personality — to shine through. That means, know the rules, then selectively break them.
Get even with the Grammar Nazi:
1) Use sentence fragments in your writing. Like this one. Yes, I know, we’ve all been schooled that every sentence must have a noun and and verb. Bull hockey. Intersperse short fragments among your long sentences for emphasis. It brings your writing to life.
2) Write one sentence paragraphs to weave in extra white space and provide visual relief.
3) Begin sentences with conjunctions. But learn to use them effectively by using them for emphasis. And don’t overuse them.
4) Use slang. It’s OK to write the way your audience talks. Just don’t use high-falutin’ words to make yourself look smart. It confuses people and scares the cat. The purpose of writing is to communicate, so say stuff in words that doesn’t require people to google your whole gosh dern article.
5) Use contractions. After all, isn’t that the way people talk? Do you know anyone who doesn’t speak in contractions?
6) End sentences with prepositions. I don’t know where this stupid rule came from. Don’t get your bloomers in a twist, or your sentences, trying to avoid ending your sentence with a preposition. Just look at that previous sentence. You would have to write: “I don’t know from where that sentence came.” Jeesh.
7) It’s OK to split wood and infinitives. Sometimes, it’s better that way. Think about the line, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” It just wouldn’t be the same to say, “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” The thrill is gone. Don’t lose your thrill for the sake of preserving your lousy infinitive. That’s all I’m saying.
8) We have permission to talk about ourselves and to talk to the reader directly. That means, you can use “I” and “you,” rather than “one” and “the reader.” In fact, it’s so, so much better if you do. Your audience wants to know that you can identify with their pain. It sounds distant and cold when one writes as though one is addressing a theoretical reader rather than a friend in one’s blog post. Get it?
9) Passive voice is OK sometimes. Some sentences need to be written in passive voice to show where the emphasis is. See? In that sentence, it was on “some sentences,” not on some unspoken “you” or imaginary “Mary” or “Tom” who was writing the sentence. Sometimes, it just can’t be avoided without ridiculous gyrations. Most of the time you want verbs that slather, masticate, zip, mash, slog, mystify, intrigue and worship. But sometimes, passive is better.
Before you can spit in the face of the Grammar Nazi, you’ve first got to understand the rules of the specific content you are writing. You also need to know when it is appropriate to break them. For example, get and follow the rules in an AP Style Guide when you are writing press releases. When you are writing blog content, you can get away with breaking additional rules.