15 Grammar Rules That Can be Broken

With trepidation I step into the gladiator arena of grammar. Below is a marvelous infographic from ExpertEditor.com, an Australian professional editing and proofreading company.

Do you agree or disagree with these choices?

Grammar rules are there for a reason. Clarity, consistency, and communication. A sloppy manuscript is a terrible thing to waste.

At the same time, rigidity with some grammar rules can create awkward sentences. In my lifetime I have seen our language change incrementally. But the bones are still the same.

Feel free to weigh in with your comments.

The above infographic can be found at ExpertEditor.com.

35 Responses to 15 Grammar Rules That Can be Broken

  1. Avatar
    Tuvia Pollack August 12, 2019 at 5:28 am #

    Great and informative! Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Seralynn Lewis August 12, 2019 at 5:30 am #

    I use sentence fragments in my writing all the time. Not consecutively, of course. And I start sentences with conjunctions just to shake things up a bit. Some of the others are too ingrained to violate.

  3. Avatar
    Sue Rice August 12, 2019 at 6:29 am #

    I hear “me and so-and-so” used so often. I have to think it won’t be long before that becomes accepted practice – kind of like close enough math! With social media there aren’t many rules about speech or writing that are consistently applied . I teach ESL and wonder if I am doing my students a disservice when I try to follow what has long been accepted as the correct way to present the words.

  4. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray August 12, 2019 at 6:40 am #

    The subject line of the email reads, “15 Grammar Rules That Can be Broken by Steve Laube,” indicating to me that these rules may be broken, but ONLY by Steve Laube.

    I must say that strikes me as exceedingly selfish, and I am deeply offended by the way in which Steve is keeping the breakable rules all to himself.

    In truth, however, as I read through these “breakable” rules, I found myself cringing more often than not. At other times, I was completely comfortable with breaking the rule in question, clearly indicating the depth to which I am a hypocrite, picking and choosing the rules I break while being horrified that others would break the rules I hold sacred.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube August 12, 2019 at 9:56 am #

      Damon,

      I wish the RSS feed system would not do that with the titles of our blogs. But it is an auto-function.

      Sorry.

  5. Avatar
    Yolanda Smith August 12, 2019 at 7:04 am #

    The only rule with which I disagree is one of the “unbreakables.” Who says we can’t make up new words? After all, someone made up every single word we already use, right? If we strategically and sparingly throw a made up word in our manuscript, it can grab the reader’s attention or tickle their funny bone.

  6. Avatar
    Randy Haglund August 12, 2019 at 7:06 am #

    Some of the rules are okay to break if you want to use slang or colloquialisms? Isn’t that true of any grammar rule? And for the gazzillianth time, I will make up a word if I want.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube August 12, 2019 at 9:55 am #

      Randy,

      I agree with you (and with Colleen below) that made up word have their place.

      If it wasn’t then we couldn’t garbandulate.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 12, 2019 at 7:14 am #

    I split with the infinitive
    and opened with conjunction;
    this is my prerogative,
    for fiction is my function.
    Rules are made for lesser men,
    not me who’s going farther.
    I ain’t not yielding control of pen
    to a style-besotted carver!
    My words will not be sliced and diced;
    they’ll soar free across the page.
    Breaking all attempts to have them triced,
    to the grammarian’s futile rage.
    My words will take their genius-form
    which will, one day, become the norm.

  8. Avatar
    Colleen K Snyder August 12, 2019 at 7:48 am #

    Rule #13… numerals. I was instructed to spell out anything lower than 100. Lower than 10 would be great! (Did we touch on then and than?)
    If we can’t make up words, then science fiction/fantasy has no voice.
    So/As long as the word is defined at some point, I’m fine/good with it.

    Can we break some of the punctuation rules, too? Please? I vote for more commas!

  9. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 12, 2019 at 9:18 am #

    I must confess to being a grammarian. I still use subjunctive mode for statements contrary to fact, employ the Oxford comma, and never split an infinitive. The Star Trek byline makes me cringe.

    Anti-un-dis-irregarless of all this, though writing must be clear, it can also be fun and humorous.

    BTW, I love this blog. Thanks, Steve.

  10. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 12, 2019 at 9:19 am #

    Ach! *** Edit*** Anti-un-dis-irregardless ***

  11. Avatar
    Lillian August 12, 2019 at 9:26 am #

    “My words will take their genius-form.” Indeed, they have, Andrew. Genius, for sure.

    “Somebody” left THEIR hat on the train.” What about SOMEONE? I’m wondering if that takes his, her, or their?

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 12, 2019 at 10:10 am #

      Thanks so much, Lillian!

      I read about somebody that
      left on the train their kitty-cat.
      The cat meowed
      so very loud,
      someone covered his ears in Gujarat.

  12. Avatar
    Steve Laube August 12, 2019 at 9:52 am #

    If you’d like to read another editor’s take on which rules can be broken, visit:

    https://kathysteinemann.com/Musings/rules-who-cares-01/#more-4466

  13. Avatar
    Victoria Anderson August 12, 2019 at 10:15 am #

    Very helpful reminders. Even as an English major, I forget the basics.
    Thank you!

  14. Avatar
    Sy Garte August 12, 2019 at 11:46 am #

    Great blog post, and delightful to see Andrew at his wittiest (which to violate another rule about superlatives, is always the case). I actually have a serious (and admittedly obnoxious) complaint about one of the breakable rules. I hate to get anywhere near politics, but I strongly disagree with attempts to do away with gender specific pronouns. English is a language remarkably free of gender specific grammar (romance and Germanic languages have gender specific forms of nouns and verbs). Replacing his with theirs, adds confusion, requires awkward explanations of whom we are talking about. (Like that whom in there?), and seems to me to be totally unnecessary. I understand that some people change gender, but doesnt that mean going from he to she, and not from he to it? (or them?). Also isnt there a rule about too many parentheses? (I hope not).

  15. Avatar
    Regina Merrick August 12, 2019 at 11:54 am #

    Love this! Although I have to admit I still cringe when newscasters misuse “I” and never use “me,” or use “less” when it should be “fewer!”

  16. Avatar
    Nan Rinella August 12, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    How fun, Steve. For those of us who like coloring outside the lines, this was encouraging & gilt erasing. I do think when we break the rules it’s not because we are ignorant but doing it for a specific reason—misspelling too, especially with dialect. However spell & grammar check have a fit.

    Thanks Steve & for the additional link.

  17. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson August 12, 2019 at 2:36 pm #

    Slavish grammar often leads to awkward, artless writing. Grammar was invented to help us communicate more clearly, more effectively, etc. If breaking the rules helps us communicate more powerfully, break ’em.

    No poet in history has left a grammar rule unbroken (yes, that’s a sweeping statement I can’t back up–and I’m fine with it). Just because we write prose doesn’t mean it can’t have poetry in it, or that it shouldn’t.

    Little children love the sounds of words and the music of how they flow together. When we lose that childlikeness, we lose a massive part of the joy of human language. I think that’s a big loss.

    Here’s a poem from fantasy/sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin. A poem that, written out in prose-form, would be every bit as beautiful–and I wouldn’t change a thing about it to make it more grammatically correct:

    The Small Indian Pestle at
    the Applegate House

    Dense, heavy, fine-grained, dark basalt
    worn river-smooth all round, a cylinder
    with blunt round ends, a tool: you know it when
    you feel the subtle central turn or curve
    that shapes it to the hand, was shaped by hands,
    year after year after year, by woman’s hands
    that held it here, just where it must be held
    to fall of its own weight into the shallow bowl
    and crush the seeds and rise and fall again
    setting the rhythm of the soft, dull song
    that worked itself at length into the stone,
    so when I picked it up it told me how
    to hold and heft it, put my fingers where
    those fingers were that softly wore it down
    to this fine shape that fits and fills my hand,
    this weight that wants to fall and, falling, sing.

  18. Avatar
    Tracy Popolizio August 12, 2019 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for this! Especially the first rule. I was corrected more than once by someone critiquing my work because of the presposition rule, but I hated the way it sounded so formal. Thank you!

  19. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 12, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    Steve, in my line of work, I correct students on a daily basis for single nouns (worker) and plural pronouns (they or them). It is the cross I must bear.

  20. Avatar
    Leola Ogle August 12, 2019 at 6:15 pm #

    I probably hurt Jesus’ feelings — not to mention my son-in-law, the pastor — yesterday during church when I wrote in my sermon notes: affect vs effect, further vs farther, whom vs who, lie vs lay, and set vs sit vs sat. *insert guilty chuckle* Apparently something in the sermon made my mind go there, and then I read this today. I love it.
    And I’m joking about hurting Jesus’ feelings. He lovingly created the writer in me.

  21. Avatar
    Nancy B Kennedy August 13, 2019 at 5:24 am #

    Ick! Ick! Ick! I never, ever, ever want to see or hear “Me and…” anywhere, anytime for any reason ever again. But, sadly, I know I’ll continue to be assaulted with it on a daily basis. And please! Make the distinction between fewer and less. Just because everybody’s jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?!? Okay… got that out of my system. Now I can start my day.

  22. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell August 13, 2019 at 7:59 am #

    Rule 1 and 2: I break these in dialogue all the time because it’s the way people talk. In narrative, not so. The others I will break as well, if it sounds better.

    In my narratives, I try to use correct grammar unless it does sound very stilted.

    Now Rule 8, I try not to break this one. It usually doesn’t sound any better to use the split infinitive.

    Rules #13: I have adopted the style of writing where all numbers are spelled out in dialogue. I do this because you cannot pronounce the number without spelling it out in your head. The times I use the actual symbol for the number is when it refers to a route number or well knows number, such as, “the man dialed 911,” and it’s not in dialogue or thought. But it always has to be consistent. (I give my editor a cheat sheet on these things when I send in my ms, so she knows what to look for.)

    As far as the Bonus rules, I have rarely broken Rule #3, except when the occasion calls for it. In my current release, my heroine over emphasizes and slightly changes a word referencing another character when she teases her roommate about him. I think that’s acceptable, and my critiquers loved it. The word was deputy, and she changed it to depperity to be funny, and only says it once.

    Great set of rules and explanations, Steve. Thank you. I’ll share it with my Facebook group forum

    • Avatar
      Sharon K Connell August 13, 2019 at 8:08 am #

      That should say “well known” not “well knows” Broke my rule of always proofreading before sending. LOL

  23. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell August 13, 2019 at 8:16 am #

    Steve, would it be possible for me to use this as my article “Tips at Hand” in my monthly newsletter, Novel Thoughts, for September?

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  1. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-15-2019 | The Author Chronicles - August 15, 2019

    […] C.S. Lakin explains when telling, not showing, emotions is the right choice, Steve Laube has 15 grammar rules that can be broken, Janice Hardy shows how to use subtext to say more with less, Elaine Viets discusses using the […]

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