I can hear all the grammarians taking in a deep collective breath. So, before you get ready to type your outraged retort, allow me to explain my viewpoint.
The English language isn’t static; it’s been on an evolutionary journey from the first moment it was uttered. Initially, when it was merely a spoken language, grammar was something you acquired. However, the invention of writing encouraged an elite group of proscriptive grammarians to create a set of rules with which spoken and written language had to comply. One such person was Robert Lowth, who in 1762, wrote A Short Introduction to English Grammar.
It was he who decided:
- Sentences must not end with a preposition
- The use of the double negative should be banned
- The double superlative was poor grammar
I’m not a fan of Lowth.
As a copywriter (and writer in general), I believe language should be flexible, which is why I tend to play with grammar. After all, if Shakespeare and Chaucer flouted the rules, why can’t I?
If I stick rigidly to the rules, the copy I write for my clients would be as dull as dishwater. Rather than leading to sub-standard English, ignoring the rules means I can create content that’s vibrant, cinematic and lively.
I am firmly in favour of Fowler’s approach. In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, he disparaged those who refused to end sentences with a preposition. He also disagreed with many grammarians who stated that ‘none’ can’t be used with a plural verb. However, to his (and my) mind, “none of us are happy’ is just as good as ‘none of us is happy’. Oh, he also agrees with me on the question of whether starting a sentence with ‘and’ and ‘but’ is acceptable – in case you’re wondering, yes, it is.
Without allowing the English language and its use to continue to evolve, we’d all still be speaking Anglo-Saxon!
Don’t criticise your copywriter for being creative
I am the first to admit I make mistakes. No matter how many times something is proofread, a slippery little typo sometimes manages to get through. I welcome being pulled up on them (when they happen), so I can put things right.
However, when I have agreed with my client that we’re going to create a friendly and warm tone of voice, I do baulk at being admonished for my misuse of grammar.
Writing, in any form, should be accessible, natural and warm. It should make friends with the reader and make them feel as though the writer is there to help them.
Sticking rigidly to out of date rules creates clunky, formal and dull writing that won’t inspire anyone to take action.
Therefore, you have been warned. If you hire me to write for you, don’t expect content that strictly adheres to the archaic rules of grammar. But you can expect professionally written, natural, accessible and persuasive copy.
Author: Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd