Sunday, November 25, 2012

Balancing Grammar With Readability

A reader writes in:

How do you feel about skipping over proper grammar to make things more readable?

I love it. Grammar should be a vehicle for communication, not an obstacle to it. And there are four grammar rules I generally break to make life easier for my readers:

1) The subjunctive:

It is important that Daniel study.

Believe it or not, this sentence is correct. To 99.9% of readers, however, it just looks weird and wrong. And since I don't write for the 0.1% of readers who are sticklers on the use of English subjunctive, I'll deliberately use the grammatically incorrect version: It is important that Daniel studies. If some grammar geek points out my mistake, I'll enjoy laughing at him.

2) Ending sentences with prepositions:

This is a rule that, when obeyed, often results in stiff and pretentious-sounding writing:

This is something up with which I shall not put.

Sometimes it's better to leave a preposition sitting harmlessly at the end of your sentence--rather than warp it into a pretentious pretzel so you can obey some dumb grammar rule.

3) Tactical use of sentence fragments:

Sometimes a sentence improves when you break the rules of proper sentence structure. An occasional sentence fragment--or an occasional sentence written in clause form--can add rhythm or cadence to a passage. The result? Far more memorable prose than a series of anally correct proper sentences.

4) Splitting infinitives:

As William Strunk would say, this is less a matter of rule and more a matter of ear.

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

No principled writer would ever consider "correcting" this sentence.