Grammar Rules: Who vs. Whom

who vs whom

Do you know when to use who or whom?

It sounds pretty old fashioned: To whom have you sent those letters? Modern colloquial speakers expect something more along the lines of Who did you send those letters to?

While whom may sound outdated, it is still the technically correct word in certain situations.

In the example above, the second sentence (Who did you send those letters to?) ends a sentence with a preposition, and it uses who incorrectly.

Let’s examine the grammar rules surrounding who vs. whom.

Here are the grammar rules and common practices violated by our example sentence (Who did you send those letters to?):

  1. It ends with a preposition.
  2. It uses who where whom is the correct interrogative pronoun



It’s worth noting that many grammarians today say it’s acceptable to end sentences with prepositions. As more and more writers and speakers place prepositions at the end of sentences, the practice becomes more acceptable.

However, we’re not here to talk about prepositions. We’re going to take a look at how to properly use the words who or whom in a sentence.

Interrogative Pronoun! Are You Kidding?

Yeah, I guess it sounds pretty high-brow, and no, I’m not kidding. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not one of those grammar snobs. I do, however, believe that writers who learn the rules can better get away with breaking them. If you’re a writer, then it couldn’t possibly hurt to know what an interrogative pronoun is and how to use it in a sentence, correctly.

Plus, learning about interrogative pronouns will help you know the difference between who vs. whom.

Interrogative Pronoun

Simply put, an interrogative pronoun is a pronoun that is used in a question. You know these words: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Whence and whither are also interrogative pronouns, but I’ll spare you on those. For now.

Who Uses Whom Nowadays?

The word whom seems to have fallen out of favor, although some crotchety old aunt or anal-retentive English teacher might force it into your vocabulary at some point. For all I know, whom could still be used in British English, Canadian English, or Aussie speak. It’s safe to assume that a high profile writing assignment (PhD, anyone?) would require you to adhere to strict rules and to use whom where it would be expected. Also, if you were writing a historical novel or perhaps a fantasy tale with a medieval flair, you’d want to know such things so your characters would have realistic dialogue.

It’s also worth noting that as you learn the correct applications of who and whom, you may acquire a taste for using these words more properly, especially in writing (but probably not so much in your speech).

What’s the Difference between Who and Whom?

First I’ll give you the technical answer, and then I’ll follow up with a trick to help you remember whether to use who or whom in your own sentence crafting.

  • Who refers to the subject of a sentence, while whom refers to the object.

Yep, it’s that simple.

Example:

I see you.

In the sentence above, I is the subject and you is the object. I always remember subject as the giver (or doer of an action) and object as the receiver (of an action). In this example, I am doing the action (seeing) and you are receiving the action (getting seen). Now let’s replace the subject and object with an interrogative pronoun.

When the subject is an interrogative pronoun, use who.

Since who is the proper interrogative pronoun for representing a sentence’s subject, you could say:

Who sees you?
(I do. I see you.)

When the object of a sentence is an interrogative pronoun, use whom.

I see whom? or Whom do I see?
(I see you.)

The following sentences would be incorrect: Who do I see? Whom sees you?

Quick Trick for Remember Who vs. Whom

Some months ago, while listening to Grammar Girl (one of my favorite podcasts), I picked up a neat little trick for remembering when to use who vs. whom. Both whom and him are pronouns that end with the letter m. So, all you do is remove the interrogative pronoun and replace it with he or him.

If you would replace the interrogative pronoun (who or whom) with him, then you should use whom:

I see whom?
I see him.

Whom did I see?
I saw him.

But if you would replace the interrogative pronoun (who or whom) with he, then you should use who:

Who saw me?
He saw me.

Grammar sure is fun.

Do you ever struggle with whether to use who or whom in a sentence? Got any tips or tricks for remembering who vs. whom? Leave a comment, and keep sticking to those grammar rules!

Grammar Rules: Lay or Lie

lay or lie

Find out how to correctly use lay or lie in a sentence.

One of the most common grammatical mistakes that we see in both speech and writing is misuse of the words lay and lie.

This error is so common, it even slips past professional writers, editors, and English teachers — all the time.

Maybe eventually these two words will morph into one and have the exact same meaning, but until then, it’s worthwhile to learn proper usage. For now, their meanings are completely different.

Let’s take a look at this interesting word pair and find out whether we should be using lay or lie based on each word’s definition.

Lay




Dictionary.com lists forty-two different definitions for the word lay. Of these, twenty-eight are categorized as a verb used with an object, eight as verbs used without an object, and six are simply nouns. Plus, there are fifteen verb phrases that use the word lay, as well as nine idioms. This is a word that can be used in a lot of different ways!

Let’s keep things simple by focusing on what differentiates lay from lie.

In short, lay is something you do to something else. You might think that sounds funny, especially considering idiom number 58 (get laid), but it’s true, and of course “getting laid” is exactly what you should use to remember that you lay something (down).

Lie

The word lie only has twenty-seven definitions, so that’s a relief, although that’s not taking into consideration the nine additional definitions that deal with falsehoods.

Again, we’ll keep it simple. Just remember that you should use the word lie when there is no object involved.

Lay or Lie

Here are some tips to help you remember whether to use lay or lie in a sentence:

Every sentence has a subject and a verb. An example would be the following:

I write.

I is the subject, and write is the verb. Many sentences also have an object:

I write poems.

In this example, the word poems is the object. The object in a sentence receives the action of the verb. The subject is taking or making that action.

Subject: I (does the action)

Action: write (the action)

Object: poems (receives the action – i.e. gets written)

Learning to Use Lay or Lie is Easy!

The word lay should be used when there is an object receiving the action, i.e. something or someone is getting laid (down) by something or someone else.

I always lay my pencil by the phone.
I laid the book on that chair.
I am laying down the law.

Conversely, the word lie is used when there is no object involved, i.e. the subject of the sentence is doing the lying.

I lie down every afternoon.
The kitten lies there, dozing.
The dog is lying down.

Wait — There’s More

As with every rule, there are exceptions. Consider the following line: “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” Well, in that sentence, the speaker (I) is laying himself or herself down. We don’t normally speak like this: I lay myself down. However, if you were to include yourself in a sentence as both as subject and object, you would use lay rather than lie.

Matters get even more confusing when we look at the past tenses of these verbs. For example, the past tense of to lie is lay:

Present tense: I am lying on my bed.
Past tense: I lay on my bed last night.

The past tense of lay is laid:

Present tense: I am laying my book right here.
Past tense: I laid my book right here yesterday.

Discerning between lay or lie is not an easy feat, but once you memorize the meanings and conjugations of these two oddly similar words, using them correctly will be a snap.

Do you have any tips for remembering whether a sentence calls for lay or lie? Are there any word pairs or grammar rules that confuse you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Grammar Rules: i.e. and e.g.

grammar rules ie and eg

Learn the grammar rules for Latin abbreviations i.e. and e.g.

Occasionally, we come across the abbreviations i.e. and e.g., but what do they mean, and what is the difference between them? How do grammar rules apply?

These two terms originate in the Latin language and are just two of the many Latin phrases that have survived into modern language.

Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations for longer Latin phrases, so one of the smartest ways to memorize these terms is to learn what they stand for.

If you speak any of the Latin languages, you’ll have the upper hand in memorizing i.e. and e.g. And if you don’t speak any Latin languages, then here are some tips to help you better understand these two terms.

That is (i.e.)




Id est means that is. It can also mean in other words. According to our grammar rules, when this term is abbreviated, it is always written with periods between and after the letters: i.e., and it should always be followed by a comma, and then the remainder of the sentence. It often acts as a conjunction, linking two separate phrases or ideas together. It is interesting to note that the similar phrase il est is still fully alive in the French language, meaning he is or it is.

Example:

I am writing, i.e., I am putting my thoughts into words on paper.

I am writing, that is, I am putting my thoughts into words on paper.

For Example (e.g.)

Exempli gratia means for the sake of example, but we often construe it to simply mean for example. As with i.e., it is always written with periods between and after the letters when it is abbreviated. It is usually followed by a comma, but there may be exceptions based on context.

Example:

There are many Latin words and phrases that still exist in modern languages, e.g., carpe diem, which means “seize the day.”

There are many Latin words and phrases that still exist in modern languages, for examplecarpe diem, which means “seize the day.”

Avoid a Mix-up: Tips for Remembering i.e. and e.g.

Abbreviated or not, these terms are not interchangeable. They simply do not mean the same thing. Still, they are often used in ways that are confusing, and since they look similar, they are easy to confuse. How to remember the difference?

These two abbreviations share the letter e. So, we must use the other letters, the i and the g, respectively, to remember which is which. The trick is to just remember one of them, and the easiest of the two is i.e., or that is.

If you can associate the i in i.e. with the word is, you’ll be fine, because e.g. doesn’t have the letter i, and neither does the phrase for example.

i.e. = that is

e.g. = for example

Another popular memory trick involves the made up word eggsample, which starts with e.g. and sounds a lot like example (as in “for exampleor “for eggsample”), which, of course, is the meaning of e.g.).

Can you think of any other ways to easily remember i.e. and e.g.? Which Latin terms do you struggle with? Are there any grammar rules that confuse you? Leave a comment to share your thoughts or ask questions.

Style Guides for Good Grammar and Consistency

good grammar

Using style guides for consistency and good grammar.

When we’re writing, we run into a lot of technical issues. Where do the quotation marks go? When is it correct to use a comma? How should titles be formatted?

Some of these questions are answered by the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But other questions are not addressed by grammar. There’s no official rule for how to format a title.

We writers need trusted resources that we can use to resolve all these issues, especially if we want to produce work that is both grammatically correct and stylistically consistent.

Style guides answer grammatical questions and provide guidelines for consistency. But there are lots of different style guides, from the The AP Stylebook to the The Chicago Manual of Style. Which one should you use?

Who Uses Style Guides?




  • Students, scholars, and other members of academia
  • Scientists, doctors, and those who work in specialized fields such as law or government
  • Journalists and reporters
  • Authors
  • Any writers who want their work to be consistent should use a style guide

What, Exactly, is a Style Guide?

A style guide is a manual that establishes rules for language, spelling, formatting, and punctuation. Within academia, these guides also provide standards for citations, references, and bibliographies. Many disciplines have their very own style guides, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

According to Wikipedia, “consistency is the major purpose of these style guides. They are rulebooks for writers, ensuring consistent language.”

These manuals promote good grammar and ensure consistency in areas where grammar is unclear. Style guides answer all those burly writing questions that are absent from the rules of grammar. Yet at the same time, the average style guide also answers those questions that deal specifically with the rules of good grammar. Basically, a style guide is an all-purpose writing resource.

Where Do I Get One?

You should be able to pick up any standard style guide at your local library or bookstore. University libraries and college bookstores should have a greater selection of specialized style guides. Of course, you can always order through Amazon or the online bookseller of your choice.

Many large companies and corporations use their own internal style guides, so if you are writing for a such an organization, they may need to provide you with their own style guide.

When is a Style Guide Appropriate?

A style guide is almost always appropriate. Since a style guide’s primary function is to render a work consistent and ensure good grammar, any work will benefit from its application. That includes creative writing, freelance writing, and blogging!

In many cases, a style guide is not only appropriate, it’s mandatory. If you’re writing for submission, it’s a good idea to check a publication’s submission guidelines to see if they require writers to use particular style guide.

Why Should I Use a Style Guide?

A style guide will make your work more consistent. Did you use a serial comma in the first paragraph, but leave it out in the third? Have you used italics in one post to refer to a book title, but in another post used quotation marks?

By establishing standards, a style guide will help you streamline your work. Once you are accustomed to using a particular set of guidelines, the writing process will flow more smoothly since you won’t have to stop and deliberate on grammar and style. Your readers will be pleased too, since inconsistency causes confusion.

How Do I Choose?

In many cases, the matter of which style guide to use is not up to the writer. As mentioned, publishers will provide guidelines explaining which style guide is required.

Most newspapers adhere to The Associated Press Stylebook on Briefing on Media Law (often called The AP Stylebook), whereas a small press publisher might ask you to use The Elements of Style (often referred to as Strunk and White). Professors and teachers generally require students to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition.

What about freelance writers, bloggers, fiction writers, and everyone else?

writing resourcesThe most popular style guide for general use is The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is also the style guide commonly used for manuscripts (i.e. novels and anthologies). Many other writing guides are based on Chicago or will defer to it for any areas of style that they do not specifically address. It covers formatting, includes rules for good grammar usage, and provides a roadmap that ensures your work is mechanically consistent.

For general use, Chicago is by far one of the best writing resources on the market, and for me, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my own writing career.

Which Style Guide Should You Use?

If you’re writing for a newspaper, you might want to go with AP. I’m not a big fan of AP because much of their style is dictated by saving space for the printing press (thus the absence of the serial comma). I think Chicago is more useful for freelancing and copywriting as well as authoring and blogging.

However, having both won’t hurt, and any serious writer would be wise to start building a collection of style guides that might prove useful throughout the course of one’s career.

Do you use a style guide, and if so, which one? Are there other writing resources that you can’t live without? Share your favorites in the comments.

Grammar Rules: Fewer or Less

grammar rules fewer or lessIt’s a battle between words: fewer or less. Are they interchangeable? Do these words have different meanings? How can we use them correctly?

Many people don’t realize that these two words do not share the same meaning and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. As a result, both fewer and less are often used incorrectly.

The difference in meaning may be subtle, but it’s significant and remarkably easy to remember. Let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about these two words:

fewer: adjective 1. of a smaller number: fewer words and more action.

less: adjective 1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.

The grammar rules are clear; let me break them down for you.




Fewer or Less? Which is Correct?

Fewer and less respectively refer to a number of items or an amount of something. The easiest way to remember which of these adjectives to use in a given situation is this:

Fewer should be used when the items in question can be counted.

She has fewer books than her brother.

Less is used when the amount of something cannot be counted.

She has less interest in reading than her brother does.

Note that books can be counted item by item. However, interest is not a thing that can be counted, although we can discuss how much of it someone has.

The basic difference here is countability. Use fewer for countable nouns like individuals, cars, and pens. Use less for uncountable nouns such as love, time, and respect. Do note, however, that there are some sticky spots to watch out for when determining whether you should use fewer or less. For example, you might need less paper but you will need fewer sheets of paper. You have fewer pennies but less money. You want fewer chocolate bars but less candy.

Fewer or Less

Now you know how to tell the difference between fewer or less.

Do you have questions about correctly using fewer or less or any other word pairs? Maybe you have something to add to this linguistic look at tricky adjectives. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment and let’s discuss.

Grammar Rules: Capitalization

grammar rules capitalization

Grammar rules for capitalization and lower case lettering

Proper capitalization is one of the cornerstones of good grammar, yet many people fling capital letters around carelessly.

Not every word deserves to be capitalized. It’s an honor that must be warranted, and in writing, capitalization is reserved only for special words.

Most of the grammar rules are explicit about which words should be capitalized. However, there are some cases (like title case) in which the rules are vague.

Capitalization of Titles

There are several contexts in which we can examine capitalization. When writing a title (of a blog post, for example), almost all the words in the title are capitalized. This is called title case.




Title case is used for titles of books, articles, songs, albums, television shows, magazines, movies…you get the idea.

Capitalization isn’t normally applied to every word in a title. Smaller words, such as a, an, and the are not capitalized. Some writers use a capitalization rule for only those words longer than three letters. Others stretch it to four.

There’s no fixed grammar rule for which words aren’t capitalized in a title, although they tend to be the smaller and more insignificant words; you should check your style guide for specific guidelines.

Capitalization of Acronyms

Every letter in an acronym should be capitalized, regardless of whether the words those letters represent start with capital letters:

  • The acronym for Writing Forward would be WF.
  • WYSIWYG is an acronym that stands for what you see is what you get. Although the words in the original phrase aren’t capitalized, every letter in the acronym is capitalized.
  • Most people use acronyms heavily in text messaging and online messaging. In common usage, these acronyms are rarely capitalized: omg, btw, nsfw. However, if you were using these acronyms in a more formal capacity, they would be entirely capitalized: OMG, BTW, NSFW.

First Word of a Sentence

As I’m sure you know, grammar rules state that the first word in a sentence is always capitalized.

Capitalization of Proper Nouns

To keep things simple here today, we’ll refer to a noun as a person, place, or thing. You need not worry about the other parts of speech because only nouns are eligible for perennial capitalization.

There are two types of nouns that matter in terms of capitalization: proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places, and things. Common nouns are all the other, nonspecific people, places, and things.

When considering whether to capitalize, ask whether the noun in question is specific. This will tell you if it’s a proper noun, which should be capitalized, or a common noun, which remains in all lowercase letters.

Proper Noun Capitalization Example

The word country is not specific. It could be any country. Even if you’re talking about the country in which you live, which is a specific country, the word itself could indicate any number of nations. So keep it lowercase because it’s a common noun.

Conversely, Chile is a specific country. You can tell because Chile is the name of a particular land in which people reside. When you discuss the people of that land, you won’t capitalize the word people. However, if you’re talking about Chileans, you definitely capitalize because Chileans are a very specific people, from a very specific country, Chile.

Hopefully that makes sense. If not, keep reading because I’m about to confuse you even more.

Capitalization of Web and Internet

Have you ever noticed the word Internet capitalized? How about the word Web? The linguistic jury is still out on these newfangled technology terms, but generally speaking, the Internet is one great big, specific place. The Web is just another word for that same place.

Wait — what about websites? Do they get capitalized? Only if you’re referring to the name of an actual site, like Writing Forward.

Capitalization of Web and Internet is not a hard and fast grammar rule. Lots of people write these words in all lowercase letters. If you’re not sure about whether to capitalize these words, check your style guide.

Common Capitalization Errors

Folks often think that capitalization should be applied to any word that’s deemed important. Here’s an example:

We sent the Product to the local Market in our last shipment. Have the Sales Force check to see if our Widgets are properly packaged.

It’s not uncommon, especially in business writing, to see nouns that are crucial to a company’s enterprise capitalized. This is technically incorrect but could be considered colloquial usage of a sort. Unless it’s mandated by a company style guide, avoid it.

Here’s correct capitalization of our example:

We sent the product to the local market in our last shipment. Have the sales force check to see if our widgets are properly packaged.

Now, in a rewrite of the example, some of the words will be again capitalized, but only if they are changed into proper nouns (names or titles of things and people).

We sent the Widgetbusters (TM) to WidgetMart in our last shipment. Have Bob, Sales Manager, check to see if our widgets are properly packaged.

What about Capitalization for Job Titles?

Ah, this one’s tricky. Job titles are only capitalized when used as part of a specific person’s title:

  • Have you ever met a president?
  • Did you vote for president?
  • Do you want to become the president?
  • Nice to meet you, Mr. President.
  • He once saw President Obama in a restaurant.

Again, this has to do with specificity. “The president” or “a president” could be any president, even if in using the phrase, it’s obvious by context who you mean. However “Mr. President” or “President Obama” are specific individuals and they call for capitalization.

Grammar Rules!

Do you have any questions about grammar rules regarding capitalization? Any additional tips to add? Leave a comment!

How to Make Good Grammar Part of Your Daily Life

good grammar

Make good grammar part of your lifestyle.

I recently started relearning how to play the guitar after a rather long hiatus. It’s not like I ever learned how to play it properly in the first place — so I’m a true beginner. And at times, I find it frustrating. I just want to pick the thing up and rip out a song, but I’m constantly tripping over my own fingers, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes from pressing your fingertips against thick metal strings, repeatedly and for extended periods of time.

Writing’s not so different from playing the guitar. Sometimes we get hung up on the technicalities of the language, and the creative flow is hindered. It’s not easy to rip out a short story when you’re worrying about whether you can end a sentence with a preposition or whether your terminal punctuation marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks. These kinds of setbacks can be painful.

Learning the rules is a drag when you want to fly, but to master any craft, it’s essential to build a solid foundation. Learn the basics; memorize and practice them until they become second nature, and then you can really take off.




Good Grammar and Writing

You don’t have to learn good grammar in order to write — just like you don’t have to learn how to read music to play the guitar — but it sure helps if you want to make music instead of a bunch of noise. Your poem might be captivating, your short story compelling, and your essay might be a veritable masterpiece…when read aloud. But if in writing, the grammar is shoddy, you’re going to have a hard time getting published or finding readers.

Even with years of practice and learning, questions about grammar continue to arise. I’ve seen college professors (who taught English) wonder about the rules of good grammar or turn to a handy reference book to look something up.

That’s why I believe that good grammar is a commitment, and for writers, it’s a lifelong commitment. It’s not what makes a writer, but lack of good grammar can definitely break a writer.

The Grammar Lifestyle

I’ve always been interested in grammar and being able to write well. But since I launched this blog back in 2007, I’ve become increasingly dedicated to understanding grammar. Oh, I break the rules from time to time, but I least I know which rules I’m breaking and why.

Today, I thought I’d share some tips for making good grammar part of your daily life. These tips are taken from my own experience, habits, and practices. All of them have helped me expand my grammar skills and become a better writer.

  1. Stop being lazy: When you’re not sure if the way you’ve written a sentence is correct, take a couple of minutes to look it up instead of rewriting it or hoping for the best.
  2. Invest in writing tools and resources: These include reference books that deal with grammar and style. My personal favorite is The Chicago Manual of Style.
  3. Make it a chore: Some chores you do every day, while others can be tackled weekly or monthly. Set a schedule for regular grammar lessons and stick to it. They don’t have to be long. You can learn something valuable in five short minutes!
  4. Talk about it: Turn your grammar questions into conversations. Ask others how they use language. Oddly, I find that even non-writers are interested in basic grammar questions. And if you can’t find anyone who wants to discuss good grammar, take your conversation online. Remember you should always use a credible resource, but discussing grammar-related issues is an ideal way to learn the nuances, intricacies, and to gain broader understanding.
  5. Put it to practice: Every time you learn something new, incorporate it into your writing until it becomes second nature.

Good Grammar for Writers

Writing isn’t really about grammar; it’s about communication. A writer’s job is to share ideas, inform, and entertain. Yet grammar is essential to clear writing. If you write without understanding grammar, it’s like playing a game without learning the rules. You’ll be all over the place, your performance will be a big mess, and you won’t have a very good shot at winning.

So, make good grammar part of your daily life. Get it into your routine, and embrace it as part of the work you have to do in order to write well.

Good Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

good grammar

Good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, is grammar?

According to Wikipedia:

In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules….Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.

Technically speaking, in linguistics and academia, spelling and punctuation are not components of grammar. When we discuss the mechanics of writing, we don’t refer to grammar. We refer to grammar, spelling, and punctuation because they are separate components that provide the rules for written language.




So how is grammar meaningful if words aren’t spelled properly and if punctuation isn’t applied correctly in a piece of writing? Aren’t spelling and punctuation critical to the structure of written language?

Grammar and Orthography

There are two common ways that language manifests: it is either spoken or written. Grammar deals with how we structure the language, and it is applied to both speech and writing. Orthography, on the other hand, addresses the rules of a language’s writing system or script.

Orthography deals with spelling and punctuation, because these elements are only relevant when the language is written.

After all, when you say a sentence aloud, you don’t say period, question mark, or exclamation point at the end. However, if you’re reading the sentence aloud, you need these punctuation marks to help you navigate the text, and they also provide cues that inform the way we stress words or inflect the reading.

Proper Grammar and Popular Grammar

I’m not a linguist. I’m a writer. I’m interested in linguistics and etymology, but only to the extent that these fields of study inform my writing and can help me better understand how to use the tools of my craft.

Grammar addresses how we structure our language and includes concepts such as tense agreement, modifiers, sentence diagramming, word order in a sentence, and sentence order in a paragraph.

But when we’re dealing with written language, proper spelling is just as essential as tense agreement. It would be quite difficult to get through a written text that was not punctuated or if the majority of the words were spelled incorrectly.

Spelling, Punctuation, and Good Grammar

Oddly, I’ve found that spelling and punctuation are misused far more than structural (or grammatical) elements in writing. Most people know how to put their words in order, and a writer of average skill is usually good at verb and tense agreements and other aspects of writing that would be construed as grammatical in nature.

Yet plenty of folks struggle with orthography (punctuation and spelling) even if their grammar is in good order. This makes sense, because we are primarily exposed to spelling and punctuation through reading and writing. But the structure of our language comes to us through listening and speaking as well.

In other words, we writers are probably far more immersed in grammar than we are in orthography.

Putting it All Together

Technically speaking, grammar may not include spelling and punctuation, but without all these elements in our writing, proper grammar does not always equate with good grammar. We talk about grammar, spelling, and punctuation because these are separate but related elements that work together to produce a mechanically coherent piece of writing.

Are You a Stickler for Good Grammar?

good grammar

Are you a stickler for good grammar?

“I don’t like to end sentences with prepositions,” my friend said while we were discussing ways to restructure a sentence.

“But it’s fiction,” I told her, “In college, as a creative writing major, I was taught to learn the rules, and then break them.”

In this case, it sounded unnatural to write the sentence without ending it with a preposition. Following the rules too rigidly is especially problematic in dialogue. Nobody would say “To which store are you going?” No. We say, “Which store are you going to?”

Writers need to value good grammar, but sometimes it makes sense to break the rules.

Good Grammar vs. Breaking the Rules

There are countless arguments for sticking to the rules of proper grammar, just as there countless reasons to break those rules.




Ultimately, each writer has to decide whether or not to be a stickler for good grammar. Some writers intentionally toss out the rules and develop a writing style outside of those rules. Others adhere to proper grammar strictly and evenly.

Maybe there’s a nice spot in the middle where you learn the rules and then figure out when it’s appropriate or desirable to break them.

Grammar is Good

Practicing proper grammar has its advantages:

  • Adhering to strict grammar rules demonstrates superior language and writing skills.
  • A thorough knowledge of grammar is a sign of intelligence in a writer.
  • Accurate grammar indicates a writer who has mastered the craft.
  • Following grammar rules all the time adds an interesting challenge to the writing process.
  • Practicing good grammar keeps the language consistent and concise with well-defined rules.

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

If you do break the rules of grammar, it sure helps to know them first. Otherwise, your writing might come off as amateurish. If you’re planning on letting your good grammar go bad (or at least naughty), then make sure you know the difference between good grammar, lawless grammar, and plain bad grammar.

  • Since spoken language rarely adheres to proper grammar, writing that relieves itself of the rules can be easier for readers to absorb.
  • Dialogue that sticks to the rules of grammar often sounds unnatural.
  • Taking creative license with one’s art means breaking the rules.
  • Bending the rules or guidelines adds punch and style to a piece of writing; one example would be starting a sentence with a conjunction.
  • Tweaking the rules can help a writer develop a personal style.

Your Thoughts on Grammar

Do you think good grammar is important for writers to master? Should we even bother with all those annoying rules? Many writers feel that we should focus on voice or story and leave grammar to proofreaders and copyeditors. Others say that understanding proper grammar is a basic writing skill.

What’s your position?

Share your thoughts on good grammar and breaking the rules of grammar in the comments.

10 Reasons Writers Should Learn Good Grammar

good grammar

Should you learn good grammar?

Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.

Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.

Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why.

Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar, saying they’d rather focus on plot or character, they’d prefer to use a natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply hire an editor to do the dirty work.

I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more than hobbyists.




10 Good Reasons to Pursue Good Grammar

Why should writers embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it? Here are ten reasons why good grammar should be a central pursuit in your writing efforts:

1. Readability

If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.

2. Communication

Some musicians learn to play by ear and never bother to learn how to read music. Many of them don’t even know which notes and chords they’re playing, even though they can play a full repertoire of recognizable songs and probably a few of their own. But get them in a room with other musicians and they’ll quickly become isolated. You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar.

3. Getting Published

How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work into the trash without thinking twice.

4. Working with an Editor

I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor. How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the heck the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.

5. Saving Money

Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so far when correcting a manuscript. It’s unseemly to return work to a writer that is solid red with markups. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because she’s breaking a sweat just trying to make it readable.

6. Invest in Yourself

Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature and you will have become a first-rate writer.

7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority

As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.

8. Better Writing All Around

When you’ve taken the time to learn grammar, it becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.

9. Self-Awareness

Some people don’t have it. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are. It’s almost indecent.

10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar

There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: you’re just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse. Like I said, I’m all for breaking the rules when doing so makes the work better, but how can you break rules effectively if you don’t know what the rules are?

No matter what trade, craft, or career you’re pursuing, it all starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.

Pitch In!

Share your favorite reasons why writers should embrace good grammar by leaving a comment. Feel free to recommend useful writing resources and grammar guides. And keep writing!