Is a grammatically perfect blog post essential?

That question occurred to me after reading a post by the excellent timethief, about grammar checkers.

I very strongly believe, that the best route to impeccable – or at least acceptable (I’ll clarify this shortly) – grammar, after my time as an adult literacy tutor, is to pay attention to those who are trying to pound it into your head in school.

Learned at that age, it will be as natural as breathing for the rest of your life. You might not actually remember the rules themselves – I certainly don’t – but how they work will be hard wired. And trust me, it’s very much easier that trying to learn the same thing as an adult.

However, for me, grammar checkers are something of a bête noir, not least because the grammar checker in Microsoft Word is frankly bizarre, and represents no version of British English that I’m familiar with, and the first thing I did, when I started writing for publication online, was disable it – and consign that bloody paperclip to oblivion!

Spelling checkers are altogether different, and in my view, if you want people to read what you write, failure to use one should be a capital offence. As should the inability to punctuate – if you have a blank spot where punctuation should be, please, invest in Lynn Truss’s book “Eats shoots and leaves”.

But a few tips – if you’re not sure what to do with a colon or semi colon, play safe and start a new sentence (the world won’t end if you start a sentence with and or but, incidentally – sometimes you just have to). Don’t scatter exclamation points like confetti, use one, and only in dialogue (except, and rarely, for emphasis, elsewhere), and remember that an ellipsis has  just 3 spaced dots… The number is not up for grabs, it is, always and forever, 3.

But back to that question in the title: Is a grammatically perfect blog post essential? In my view, and I know some of you will consider this heresy, but just hold off on the green ink for a while, no, it isn’t. Your prose doesn’t need to be grammatically impeccable – unless you want it to be – but it will flow so much more enjoyably, for the reader, if you lighten up a little and bend the rules just a tad.

The ability to write a grammatically perfect blog post, or anything else for that matter, is important, because without that, you won’t know how to bend the rules effectively.

It would be useful to consider two of my favourite authors at this point John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, et al), and Stephen King, who surely needs no introduction.

Both immensely readable – and very different. Wyndham’s grammar is impeccable, King’s style is colloquial and deceptively simple, but it sure as hell gets the job done. Ask yourself which style is the more  fluid, and draws you in more easily. I’m willing to bet that most people will opt for King.

King, of course, taught English, so he knows the rules and how to break them for maximum effect, without jarring the pickiest of readers. Wyndham, a child of his time, wrote with perfect clarity, and grammar, but he simply lacked the immediacy of King. Or, if you prefer another genre, John Sandford, a journalist who writes (mostly), crime fiction. In addition, most of Wyndham’s characters spoke as I assume he did – except for the lower orders, who were forced to speak as though they were Victorian costermongers!

Neither King’s nor Sandford’s grammar is perfect – were it to be so, it would feel clunky. Just like the phrase “were it to be so”. It’s grammatically correct, but most people would render it as “if it was”. It’s wrong, and would have pedants frothing, but it works (nothing wrong with being a pedant, by the way – I’m one, I confess – but you need to know when to take a step back).

Sometimes, I take that step back, and ask myself should I go with “were” or “was,” and mostly I’ll go with was for two reasons – because, even though it’s technically wrong, it’s how most people speak, and so it’s what they subconsciously expect to read.

Finally, while it’s nothing to do with grammar, someone once said, and I can’t remember who, that you should never use a $10 word when a 5cent one will do – in other words, avoid needlessly long, polysyllabic, words – and that’s a very good rule to bear in mind. In addition, short sentences and short paragraphs make text very much easier to read on a screen.

As, indeed, do 5cent words.


3 thoughts on “Is a grammatically perfect blog post essential?

  1. You Beauty…
    Can I ask a few questions please?

    Why no comma after but? is it not ALWAYS what you should do?
    What does green ink mean?
    Did’nt know King wrote…taught English…How delightful. I will read his books.
    Can tou end a sentence with a bracket? As you did?
    What is Polysyllabic words?
    My favorite author is Geoffrey Archer…:)
    And, I learnt from you, thank you, …
    means…3 and ! is one 🙂
    ::)) xx

    • Why no comma after but? is it not ALWAYS what you should do? – Typo. Or not.

      Take a look at the sentence about Cormac McCarthy. Introducing a comma after the opening “But” would create a pause where none is needed, so that rule can be ignored. Rules are mainly for the examination room, to demonstrate that you have a thorough grasp of how language works. Out in the real world – and this is what I was writing about – the rules can be bent to better fit the situation, and a comma after that particular “But” would be entirely superfluous.

      What does green ink mean? – Back in the days when people wrote to newspapers on real paper, with real pens, people moved to write angry letters (or just deranged ones), were known as the green ink brigade because so many of them would write using green ink. Whether the tale is apocryphal or not,I have no idea, but it has the ring of truth.

      Can tou end a sentence with a bracket? As you did? – No, but you can end it with a full stop, as I did. The thing is, language changes over the years, and what I was taught at school no longer holds true in some cases. For example, time was when an exclamation point at the end of a sentence would be followed with a full stop, which is still strictly correct – but nobody does it any longer. At least, nobody I’ve seen.

      But take a look at Cormac McCarthy’s book No country for old men. The punctuation, or lack of it, will drive you bananas!

      What is Polysyllabic words? – “Poly” is Greek, and means “many”, so it’s a word with many (or at least several), syllables – like, in fact, polysyllabic.

      My favorite author is Geoffrey Archer…:)
      – You’ll get no sympathy from me!

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