School’s out: four grammar rules it’s OK to break

Most of us, whether we’re copywriters, content marketers, PRs or journalists, will have initially crafted our writing skills in school.

As impressionable young teens, we lapped up endured the big book of grammar and punctuation that English teachers would use to repetitively drum their facts and etiquette into our brains.

Do you know what you should do with that old-fashioned (or should that be old-fashion) book of grammar and punctuation? Forget it. No, I’m not giving up. I genuinely mean forget it. Literally.

The first rule of writing is: forget everything you learned about writing in school

To paraphrase Tyler Durden, “The first rule of writing is: forget everything you learned about writing in school.” It hasn’t quite got the same ring to it has it? Anyway, stick with me.

For me, it’s not really that difficult to forget everything I learned at school. Firstly, I can’t remember anything before the age of 16.

Seriously, I think something terrible must have happened to me and I’ve erased it from my memory. At least I think that’s what’s happened anyway. I can’t remember.

Secondly, my English teacher was the spitting image of Jerry Springer and I often got sent out of class for shouting “Jer-ry, Jer-ry!” as he entered the room. Oh the folly of youth.

In fairness to Mr Springer, he did teach me the difference between why and how, a common grammatical error in the west of Scotland.

“Get out,” Mr Springer would say, understandably offended at getting taunted first thing on a Monday morning. “How, sir?” I’d moodily reply.

“By getting up off your chair and walking out the door,” he’d say with a glint in his eye. OK, I get it. Why, not how.

So, in fairness to school, I did learn the difference between why and how. But the point remains: forget (almost) everything you learned about writing in school.

Here are just four grammar rules we learned at school that we should all banish from our memories:

Never start sentences with conjunctions

You should never, ever, under any circumstances, start a sentence with a conjunction. You want to start a sentence with and? Or but? Are you crazy?

Well, I must be crazy. And some of the best writers of our generation must be too. And all modern grammar books and style guides.

Don’t be afraid to start sentences with conjunctions. It’s often the best way to highlight a benefit. Or create dramatic effect. That wasn’t very dramatic was it?

Always I, never me

Hands up who was taught that saying ‘you and me’ was always wrong? You? Yeah, you and me both brother.

Let’s get something straight. It’s perfectly fine to say (and write) you and me. Basically, I should be used when it’s the subject of the sentence, and me should be used for the object of the sentence.

The best way to work out whether you should use ‘you and I’ or ‘you and me’ is to take away the other person and see if the sentence sounds right. Simple.

Do not use contractions

Do not even think about using a contraction in writing. You want to use a contraction? You cannot be serious, can you?

Yes, I’m deadly serious. We use contractions all the time in conversation. And we want to have conversations with our customers don’t we?

Regardless of the medium, industry or topic, your copy should be written for your users. Want a surefire way to make your copy friendlier and more conversational? Use contractions.

You cannot can’t write a one-sentence paragraph

Yes you can.

See? I just did it. I remember my English teacher telling me that paragraphs must have at least three sentences. He was wrong.

Paragraphs can be whatever length you want them to be. As long as you’ve made your point or argument, go ahead and start a new paragraph.

These are just four grammatical rules that can, and often should, be broken. That doesn’t mean that every rule should be broken. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be afraid to do so when and where necessary.

As a copywriter and content marketer, I’ve always stuck to one rule: providing clarity to consumers is much more important than adhering to strict grammar ‘rules’.

Do you have any questionable grammar rules that you learned at school? Share them in the comments section below.

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Photo courtesy of The National Library of Wales

Originally appeared on LinkedIn on February 6 2015

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