I don’t care how prevalent Twitter and texting become with their hashtags and emoticons and lazily shortened words. Grammar is still important. Very much so.
In public situations, a bad grasp of grammar usually conveys intellectual ignorance while a bad display of grammar might indicate intellectual laziness.
Obviously, neither of those are good things. Not only can the message be harder to read that way, but the writer can also come across as unprofessional or, worse yet, untrustworthy.
Sure, it might earn you street cred on Twitter, but out in the business world, that cool factor is largely going to fall flat.
However, that’s not to say you always need to adhere to perfect grammar. Sorry grammar Nazis, but sometimes your rulebook really does need to be thrown out the window.
Traditionalists will tell you that you can’t end a sentence on a preposition, and that a clause or phrase can’t stand alone. They’ll also deliver whole lectures about how you should never split an infinitive, and they’ll declare that the passive voice is always a bad thing.
They’re wrong on all counts.
The beauty of the English language – of language in general – is its ability to be shaped and molded. The better writers understand it, the more they can direct it to convey pointed messages, whether to advertise, educate, entertain, sympathize, placate…
The written world is theirs to employ.
Put simply, we get to make words work for us, conveying different emotions and responses just as much as different pieces of data. It depends on what vocabulary choices we use, but also the order of those vocabulary choices.
For example, there’s a different feel to the two visually similar sentences:
He knew what she was referring to.
He knew to what she was referring.
Yes, the first rendering is casual and the second proper. But it goes so much farther than that.
The first is conversational. It puts the writer and reader on the same plane, implying an equality and even understated likability. It’s more engaging and, depending on the surrounding lines, could very well be indicating an amusing joke.
Then there’s the second sentence, which does come across as potentially more proper. But it also carries some ominous tones because it puts an added emphasis on the word “what,” making it stand out in a more prominent and suspicious manner.
In the same way, making a sentence out of a clause or phrase or even single non-imperative word can add to a narrative even if it’s not at all grammatically correct. Take the two examples below:
We had to go see her again.
We had to go see her. Again.
The single sentence option has an ambiguous tone. The person declaring it can be concerned, annoyed or downright angry. Whereas the two-sentence example is exceptionally clear that the writer is not in a good mood about having to retrace his or her steps.
That makes good grammar somewhat lacking in this case.
Or take starting out thoughts with conjunctions, another grammatical no-no. I’ve worked with people who refused to do that, and their writing suffered for their strict adherence to the rules. They came across as choppy or uninteresting or robotic, when they could have made such simple changes here and there to significantly spice up what they were presenting.
It’s amazing what you can do with words when you’re not rigidly confined by a rulebook.
For any grammar Nazis out there who I haven’t yet convinced, do me a favor and just ponder this last thought: Grammar should never be our masters; we should be mastering it.