I love grammar. I love being able to pick a sentence apart and put it back in a different order, find out all the different ways I can say the same thing. Language is so fluid—it’s gorgeous, really. I was the English major who took grammar classes for fun (yes, they were NOT required and I took them anyway.) and in my spare time I like to read one of my most prized possessions: the Oxford English Dictionary. (Cue angelic voices singing.) I love grammar so much that I’m planning on being an editor and spending the rest of my days contemplating dangling participles, restricted clauses, count vs. non-count nouns, etc. (Did you know that grammar is much more than just punctuation?)
But there is something that I will never, ever, ever do. And that is: I will never wield the Grammar Hammer.
The Grammar Hammer is the weapon which some well-meaning English grammar geeks use to beat upon the people who are not like us. They berate the rest of the world for not knowing when to use a semicolon. They complain about seeing spelling errors in blog posts and other writings. I agree that spelling/grammar errors should not be in books, magazines, newspapers, etc., because the readers pay to read those publications, and editors get paid to edit them. So editors should do better at their jobs. But. If you are a normal, average, sane person who has interests other than obsessively dwelling on the intricate workings of our fascinating language, I don’t blame you. The world is beautiful, and I’m glad you know how to enjoy it. I can still learn from your misspelled musings on life.
Undoubtedly many of you reading this have been abused by a grammar enthusiast wielding the Grammar Hammer. I apologize for my zealous compatriot. They knew not what they were doing. As a result, you have felt belittled, stupid, and altogether afraid to write ever again. But I encourage you to write anyway. I do believe that we learn more when we reflect on life, when we force ourselves to try to effectively communicate our feelings. So please write.
I’m not saying throw caution to the wind and write one long sentence never using any punctuation just spilling your guts and feelings and assuming that everyone else will be able to follow you because it’s all about the content anyway isn’t it and no one should care about the structure just the content that’s all that matters. Don’t do that. That’s annoying and actually inhibits your reader’s understanding. If you don’t know anything at all about grammar, you should learn because it is very helpful. However, I don’t expect you to know everything.
A word about style: Perhaps you did not know that sometimes it is permissible – nay, recommended! – to break the “laws” of grammar. (Spoiler: there are no LAWS of grammar. They’re more like guidelines.) Many incredible authors, like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, regularly defied our punctuation and grammar conventions to write enduring masterpieces that shaped English literature forever. It was their writing style, and yours may also deviate from the guidelines. You may have something incredible to say, and you do not need to slavishly bow to what the Grammar Hammer-wielding folks decree.
So please: write, write, write. Don’t let us stop you. If everyone always had impeccable grammar, we editors would be out of a job.