What is the point of grammar, anyway?

Grammar. It’s a funny beast. Every language has their own foibles when it comes to grammar, but today we’re focusing on that most international of languages, English.

English is in an odd situation. Most English people do not know “proper” grammar. And even if they do know the right grammar, they don’t know why. And for non-native speakers, some of our archaic “rules” are confusing and contradictory.

But nowadays we live in a global world. There’s no point in pretending that we live in one corner of England and speak perfect Queen’s English. It’s perfectly normal to say pants instead of trousers, or to use an Oxford comma.

So what actually is the point of grammar?

Put in the most simple words possible, grammar helps words make sense.

Without grammar, it would be impossible to understand the nuances of what someone was writing. We’ve all seen the comma memes out there.

But that’s the point: to be understood. That’s the point of language. We want others to understand what we want to say.

Which is why, at Intellyo, we don’t like to refer to grammar as rules, more as guidelines.

Grammar guidelines for understandable English

In the UK, there is a campaign for Plain English. The most famous of these is the Plain English Campaign, set up in 1979 to fight back against unreadable legal documents.

But the origins of plain English are much earlier than that. One of my most posted images is that of George Orwell’s writing rules. They’re simple: just make sure that your words and thoughts are understandable.

Orwell's Writing Rules

And it’s Orwell who had a huge influence on the idea of Plain English.

The advent of Plain English

It’s from Orwell’s Politics and the English Language that the above “rules” are taken. And this essay led in part to the British government asking Sir Ernest Gowers to write about good writing. And Gowers produced his short booklet “Plain Words”.

This book is focused on, in Gowers’ own words:

the choice and arrangement of words in such a way as to get an idea as exactly as possible out of one mind into another

Which, for me, is the definition of grammar.

Grammar in Content Writing

So when it comes to content, what impact can your grammar choices have? Put simply, your grammar, as with your language and word choice, should fit your audience.

Don’t try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. If it happens, it happens: usually that preposition makes the most sense sitting right there at the end of the sentence.

Keep things simple, keep things understandable, and keep things relatable. Don't bother with advanced grammar, just bother with making your words understandable to your audience.

What to do when someone calls you out on grammar?

Trust us, it is going to happen. Someone will invariably correct your grammar, or call you out over it. Sometimes they're just going to be wrong, but most of the time they'll either be right or technically right (don't you hate when people are technically correct? It just makes me want to throw my arms up...).


So what to do when you do get called out?

Well, if they're right, and the suggestion does improve the flow and understanding of your writing, let them know. Thank them and correct your mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. I know that many of our articles are chock full of grammar mistakes.

If they're wrong, it's probably not worth explaining to them why they're wrong. If you must, make sure to link to an outside source. If you can restrain yourself, though, all the better. Just ignore them, it's all for the best.

And if they're technically correct? Usually here, your choice is either because it's the grammar that comes naturally to you or the grammar that fits your audience best. So explain to them that you wrote it that way for readability. You acknowledge that they're right, but you will not be changing the mistake.

Remember, most of the time these grammar correctors will not be your target audience. So your writing does not have to satisfy their needs.

Great content writing is not about great grammar. It's all about great content. It doesn't matter if your syntax is off, if your infinitive is split or if your preposition comes last. It matters if you can get your thoughts into the minds of your readers cleanly, clearly and succinctly.

Content should be planned, put together in a way that makes sense to your readers, and published on a platform that fits.

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