I love the English language, its intricacies, foibles and downright daftness at times. However, as a freelance copywriter, I refuse to be bound by and caught by strict grammar rules.
Some rules are meant to be broken, and I have, unashamedly, been breaking grammar rules since starting our as a freelancer back in 2007.
You see, to create fabulous and compelling sales copy, you need to write naturally. If you strictly adhere to the rules of grammar that is damn near impossible.
Has this Machiavellian streak got me into trouble? No, but it has wound up a few clients.
Most of the time, clients get what I do with the English language, and because they get the results they want, embrace my grammar flouting. However, some pedants refuse to be moved and insist on sticking to the rule rigidly – usually at their cost because the content I wrote (and they then fiddle with) falls flat on its face.
Yes, the worst enemy of a copywriter is a world-be grammar pedant. At sight of my initial draft, they climb up on their soapbox and unleash a grammar diatribe. So I say this to all grammar pedants out there – look away now, you’re not going to like what I’m about to say.
Some grammar rules are meant to be broken
Some rules are made to be broken because they don’t help with clarity. Some rules are completely out-dated and no longer fit for purpose in the modern age. In my view, language is a fluid concept that should be allowed to grow and change to reflect societal changes.
Of course, what gets broken comes down to context and the audience I’m writing for. See that? I ended a sentence with a preposition – off with her head!
Nine rules that should be broken
1. Ending a sentence with a preposition
Twisting your sentences, so they don’t end in prepositions makes them painfully awkward to read and completely flies in the face of natural writing.
Where did this rule come from?
Sorry, I’ve done it again. Let’s try again. From where did this rule come? If you’re Yoda, that sounds great, but for everyone else, it completely wipes away any hint of personality.
For the sake of clarity, readability, and personality, ignore this archaic rule and embrace that final preposition.
2. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction “and” or “but”
And or but are perfectly good words, which can and should be used at the start of sentences.
This one probably started back in the classroom where a teacher was trying to get their pupils to add a bit of variety to their sentence construction.
But wherever it started, the rule must end now. Conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, grab attention and can add emphasis to an important point.
3. The split infinitive debate
Thou must not let another word come between “to” and its verb. Poppycock.
Really? We’ve already heard from Yoda once in this post, so let’s pop back to outer space “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, which sounds a hell of a lot better than “to go boldly where no man has gone before.”
It’s time to rebel people.
4. Don’t use contractions (oops)
Remember when I said the most effective copywriting is naturally written? How many times a day do you use contractions in your speech?
Always, am I right?
Forcing yourself to use uncontracted words in your copy is like writing in the Victorian era. Your writing sounds stilted and ridiculously formal.
OK, if you’re writing required a formal stance, then follow the rule to your heart’s content. But, if you’re writing sales copy, then your writing should reflect natural speech.
The use of slang comes down to the audience you’re writing for (oops, there’s another preposition).
If you’re writing for a teenage audience or a company that wants to look hip and trendy, you can get away with slang. Just don’t overdo it.
6. A or an?
The rules state that “An” should go before nouns starting with a vowel and “A” before those beginning with a consonant.
For me, it should do with sound.
The whole purpose behind this rule is to make a sentence easier to say. So, “an hour” is easier to say than “a hour”. However, “a hotel” sounds better than “an hotel.”
7. One-sentence paragraphs
I’ve been flouting this one throughout this post.
Single sentence paragraphs make content much easier to read because it breaks it up, facilitating skim reading.
8. Pronoun-subject agreement
Back in the olden days, this rule began because when women voiced their feelings of exclusion. “He” was (quite rightly) viewed as gender bias.
To tackle this situation, a few writers began to adopt the clunky “he or she.” Today, thankfully, more people are embracing the pronouns “they”, “their”, and “them” when the gender of the person is unknown. Therefore, rather than “everybody should take his or her seat”, you should write “everybody should take their seat.”
9. Who vs whom
You know what? I’m not even going to get into the technicalities of this one. To me, the use of “whom” is antiquated and makes you sound rather pretentious. For me, it’s “who” all the way.
I don’t expect you to agree with everything I’ve said here. However, I would ask that when you’re reviewing the content, your copywriter has written for you, bear these comments in mind.
They are writing for a specific purpose and audience. They are there to create content that will engage and sell.
Above all, they are professionals and know what they’re doing. Trust in their judgement. After all, that’s why you turned to a professional copywriter in the first place.
If you want a copywriter who will stick rigidly to the rules of grammar, don’t call Sally. But, if you want someone who’s not afraid to bend the rules to get you what you want, call her on +44(0)1449 779504 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.