To Boldly Go… Is it okay to use bad grammar?

Whilst helping my 7 year old daughter with her literacy homework I was struck, not for the first time, by how complex the English language is.  So many rules, many of which seem to have no logical provenance.  And many of which I am regularly in breach of, even though I write for a living.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a stickler for good grammar and I have my standards: get a text from me and it will be fully punctuated and noticeably absent of acronyms.  And nothing gets my goat more than bad spelling.  Yet, unlike my 75 year old father, who would rather gouge his own eyeballs out with a blunt spoon than split an infinitive, I believe that to be a truly great writer, it’s essential to be creative with the rules.  For example, I may tell my daughter that it’s not the done thing to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as ‘And’ or ‘But’.  Or ‘or’.  And I never encourage her to write one, two or three word sentences, often with no verb or noun.  How hypocritical.  Because I do both.  Often. 

Like driving your car on the wrong side of the road, breaking the rules of grammar can have a startling impact, instantly grabbing attention and eliciting an emotive response.  Deviating from conventional sentence construction allows you to create rhythm, pace and suspense.  Words are energised and leap off the page.  Readers get hooked.  Messages get home.  Sales get made.

But before you smugly tear up the rules book, there is an important distinction to make.  The bad news is that ‘bad’ grammar only works when it is written by someone who has an excellent grasp of good grammar.  Someone who consciously breaks the rules for deliberate, strategic effect.  Above all, someone who not only writes well but has a great ear for language and the impact of sound.  Where the rules of grammar are broken through laziness or ignorance, it is as obvious as a nun in a brothel.  With equally repulsive effect. 

So, if you’re guilty of grammatical ignorance and you think it really doesn’t matter, think again.  In a world where we are constantly bombarded by information, it’s not just what you say that will decide whether you get noticed.  It’s how you say it.


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