Now that I’ve written about the importance of good grammar, it’s about time I wrote about the importance of bad grammar. Believe it or not, bad grammar can actually be good for you. It can actually serve you better than good grammar can.
I’m not saying you should ignore the rules specified in the textbook. What I’m saying is that you should know when to stick to the rules and when to break them.
It all depends on the context of your writing. You need to pay obsessive attention to spelling and grammar when you’re writing academic papers, business correspondence, legal papers and other such formal documents. When you’re doing any of the following things, however, you have the license to break quite a few rules:
- Creative writing. The greatest novelists and poets of English literature routinely ignored proper punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and the other basic rules your English teachers told you to follow. Think James Joyce, Salman Rushdie, Gertrude Stein and Emily Dickinson. The fascinating things they did with English wouldn’t have been possible if they stuck to the rules.
- Blogging. Popular bloggers naturally have well-written posts. However, these posts are written in an informal style that doesn’t bother with the more obscure rules. That’s because blogs aim to communicate with ordinary people in the most effective way possible.
- Speechwriting. US President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech is a very good example of how to break grammatical rules in order to communicate in the most effective manner possible. Take a look at this excerpt:
It’s the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
If you tried to write something like this in an academic paper, your professor would likely tell you to stop using “and” so much. Or to cut this long sentence up into two or three sentences.
For situations not included in this list, ask yourself these two simple questions:
Who are you writing for? Is it your boss? Your friends? Your clients? Is your target audience highly educated or not? What socio-economic class do these people belong to?
What effect do you want to have on your readers? Do you want to entertain them? Inform them? Impress them? Do you want them to buy your product or service?
These guide questions will help you decide when to selectively employ bad grammar. That’s right, selectively. Break the textbook rules only when “errors” help your message become clearer and more effective.