The Trouble With Grammar
Grammar Can Change
Everyone believes that grammar never changes. Yes, nouns are always nouns, and verbs haven’t changed much aside from adding new ones in the mix. But grammar rules do change over time. What you learned in school ten, twenty, or thirty years ago might not be the same rules there are today.
How can learn what has changed? For one thing, we go back to school. I found that out as I went back after nearly twenty years and discovered a lot of changes had occurred in grammar and other areas. It took a few papers to get it figured out.
You could also submit your work to a publisher/editor and find out the hard way. Red ink is a sure sign. It's not a bad way but can be painful.
What could possibly change? Well, the first big one was spacing between sentences as you type. Okay, this isn't really grammar, but it was major in my editing so I wanted to mention it. When I was in school, I got penalized for putting only one space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. It was to be two. That was due to how the typewriters presented the finished product. Today, you are to only put one space between the sentences. I like to think I was ahead of the times in my thinking.
Did you know that it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a conjunction now even in academic work? According to the Chicago Manual of Style you can, and that is an official academic resource.
You also don’t need a comma before ‘too’. Sorry, that one is hard to follow for me. I am getting better at letting the old rule go, but when you have spent a few decades having it drilled in you, it is hard to give it up.
These are just a few examples that have changed since I was in school.
Rules That Are Debatable
There are many rules that are debatable. These are ones that groups have argued against and usually have good arguments for, but the rules still continue on. One example is the Oxford Comma.
Do you put a comma after every item in a list? If I packed a shirt, pants, and deodorant for my trip, would you have put that comma in right before 'and'? If you are in support of the comma, you would. The standard rule is to not use the comma as the punctuation is meant to replace the word 'and'. I packed a shirt and a pair of pants and deodorant. Commas make it easier and quicker to communicate.
There are many rules out there that some experts argue over. Default to the official rules, but if you argue with the rule with a solid reasoning, just be consistent. If you break from rules, have a solid argument.
Never assume you know it all, because you will be shown up. I’m always learning something new when it comes to grammar and punctuation. There is always something new to learn. I strongly suggest getting your own copy of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). You can access it online, but you have to pay an online membership for full access. I just prefer to have a book to touch and mark.
Now, I have to admit that I don’t agree with many of the rules of grammar. There are some that I just want to scream and argue about, but when it comes to my published material I have to give into the CMS and follow the rules. I just don’t have to like it.
That is one of the reasons I have this column so that we can all learn together and appreciate the grammar rules…even if we don’t like them.
Good Grammar Resources
- The first and foremost resource you should have is The Chicago Manual of Style. This is the final say in most grammar rules and is used by the majority of editors and publishers. Get the latest edition and refer to it.
- Grammargirl is another great resource. It is up to date and addresses most every grammar issue. It's quick to look up problems and plainly answers grammar issues.
Don't just use any site or resource. Make sure you are using resources that have the right credentials to give advice.