To me, grammar is a bridge between a writer’s ideas and a reader’s understanding of those ideas. It’s a tool that allows for clarity. Without some structure, some common agreements, and some consistencies in spelling, usage, and/or punctuation, some writing, like this sentence below, would be really tough to read:
But I am willing to ignore a punctuation rule if there would be no confusion or embarrassment as a result of something a client has written. We all have a distinctive voice as writers, and I don’t mess with that.
Does language evolve? Yes. If it didn’t, we’d all be talking and writing the way our ancestors did (but irregardless is still not accepted).
Even punctuation rules change over time. Now we only put one space between sentences and after a colon that sets up a list within a sentence.
Of course, when the meaning can change due to a mark like a comma being used or left out, we writers need to be careful. We can’t blame our readers for our mistakes.
So while using good grammar is more than a suggestion, there are certainly times when we can relax a bit. As long as we’re not confusing our readers or embarrassing ourselves (or our boss, or our company), and we have a really good reason to ignore a rule . . . I think it’s OK.
It helps a lot to know what the rules are before we do that. Many that still exist have a purpose to them: clarity. And that’s why I continue to help others (re)learn the basic punctuation and usage rules of American grammar.
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