Quick Tip #16: Rules are made to be broken

One of the first rules of learning English is that there are, well, rules to follow.  We learn our tenses, punctuation, sentence structure, and all those “correct” academic words to use in an organized, thoughtful (often 5 paragraph) essay. And it’s good to learn these rules for they help us communicate in a way that a greater number of people can understand.

But then, sometimes, you notice depressing stories like this pop up on Twitter about how testing students on all the rules broke their creative spirits:

So, here’s a new “rule”:

Grammar rules are actually just guidelines for many professional writers.  You can break them (if it’s for a good reason). 

What are some good reasons? Here are a few:

  • It sounds better / it helps maintain your voice: For example, rather than going through linguistic gymnastics to avoid ending a sentence on a preposition, just do it if the point is more effectively made that way.
  • There is no “actual” word to describe what you’re trying to say.  Linguists often enjoy debating how many words Eskimos actually have for snow for a reason.  Sometimes, you just have to come up with a new word for a very specific situation – that’s how we get new words.  Just ask Shakespeare.
  • It’s an informal topic / discussion for an informal audience.  Use those contractions. Write sentences with all. the. drama. LOL it up as you write your speech on “conversations in social media.”  In other words, if it’s appropriate for the topic, you can be more colloquial.
  • It helps emphasize your point. Did your elementary school teacher tell you that you always had to at least four sentences per paragraph? Did you learn in high school that you can’t use short sentences (or even one word “sentences”)?

Guess what?

You’re an adult.

Bet you’re paying attention more to these sentences now, aren’t you?

  • You actually know what works. Ultimately, this reason is key. You have a clear vision for your project.  You know what it should sound like and what it should look like because you have spent a long time honing your craft.  So, when you feel confident about all the rules, that’s when you start to realize that sometimes they need to be broken to create an even better piece of writing.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll come up with the next big catchphrase or word…


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