No, not another Things you were taught at school that are wrong. Just my own general thoughts on the matter, because who gets to decide what is wrong.
Currently, there is a gluttony of articles, rehashing and re-blogging of articles about ‘Things you were taught at school that are wrong’, well surely (and for those old enough to remember, don’t call me Shirley..) we all already know that what we are taught at school isn’t the fount of all knowledge, but simply the best possible format that can be given to the mass of ankle biters and the raging hormones of teenage monsters.
But (see what I did here) should these grammar rules actually dictate what is right or wrong in how we write, read and consume the written word. These articles compare descriptivists vs prescriptivist theologies, which, while enlightening and possibly useful at the next pub quiz, is for most people a step too far. These articles point out the basic five rules of grammar:
- You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction
- You can’t end a sentence with a preposition
- Put a comma when you need to take a breath
- To make your writing more descriptive, use more adjectives
- Adverbs are the words that end in ‘ly’
And (boom! again a conjunction) as a starting point these are useful, however, this isn’t the whole story. Prescriptivist deal with the hard and fast structure of grammar, while descriptivists lean towards the do what feels good ideology, but even then I feel it doesn’t go far enough. They argue for breaking the rules in novels, poems etc, but draw the line in academic articles, essays and the DVD player manual. What is the difference? How we read something is how we read it. Human speak is the ‘ands’ and the ‘buts’, the ‘umms’ and ‘ahh’, and long drawn out ‘soooooooooo…….’.
How many iPhones installation guides or Ikea setup instructions have you read that tell you to ‘insert panel a into slot z’ and how many times have added your own commentary, the ‘but’, ‘so’, ‘ah’ and the more common, ‘damn you to hell Swedish spawn of Satan’. Language is changing people, place and time. Even inflection (bit harder to pull off in writing) will change a word so shouldn’t our rules change with it? I would rather read, ‘If you insert panel a into slot z, you will be happy. But if you don’t good luck building your Billy bookcase’.
Let’s take works of fiction as an example, they are the majority of what we read. I dare you, I double ‘Pulp Fiction, Jules Winfield’ dare you to find tradition grammar rules in the book Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (ok, there is but that’s not going to help my point), but the contractions, break from traditional grammar rules, slang and dialect are rife and it’s none the worse for it. Humanising the words give the story structure and make this book what it is, it’s more real regardless of the break. Remove the slang, dialect and break from traditional grammar and you are left something so much less.
Remember, Shakespeare invented 1700 words still in use in language today, and the grammatical structure of his word differs greatly to today’s world. Times changes, the rules change, so break the rules, start your sentence with ‘and’ and ‘but’, or whatever, just make it contextual and part of the storyline, and the reader will happily accept it.