Grammar, spelling, punctuation and style are interesting components of writing. For some, a sense of good English is innate, like intelligence. For others, it’s an acquired skill. But, if there’s one thing most of us can agree on, it’s that there is no universally accepted definition of “good” English. Even the best grammarians would struggle to find the right synonym for an essay 100% of the time. Here’s a quick guide explaining some handy hints, and helpful pointers. Instead of laying down the law, let’s look at some quirks of English.
1. English is fluid
A lot of people imagine the rules of English to be carved in stone, like the ten commandments. This works very well for 5 year old children learning how to read and write in school, or non-native speakers of English. However, like the ten commandments, there are contradictions in the rules of grammar. Language is like water; adaptable, flowing and frequently changing shape. Words are added into the dictionary every year, and some people disregard the old school ways of grammar in favour of the more common.
2. Grammar and style sometimes contradict each other
This problem happens a lot for poets. Slang, enjambment and archaic words contradict what many writers consider “good” style. As many hopeful Facebook philosophers know, it’s hard have an on-point argument if there is a lot of bad spelling, misuse of words or homonyms. Not necessarily typos can defunct speech.
3. Punctuation is originally based on breaths in speech
Technically, we speak in punctuation. In the Renaissance, when most people were illiterate, people had to guess the full stops and commas in sentences. They did this by listening for pauses, inflections for exclamations and questions, and tone of voice. Drama is a good example of how punctuation is employed, since the characters often speak in verse.
Nowadays, punctuation for the written word is different from the spoken word. This is because things like commas are used for more things than lists, pauses and asking questions. Most people do not necessarily realise this, and punctuation that you use to write is an acquired skill.
4. You can never be the best editor because you can’t turn off your mental autocorrect
Everyone has a mental autocomplete in their mind. That’s why it’s very hard to spot your own mistakes on a page (it’s also the reason why your brain blends terrible + horrific = terrific). Like the algorithms used in predictive text, your subconscious squirrel brain is looking out for what it thinks the next word will be, learning individual preferences. If you really want to make sure it’s perfect,get someone to look over it. And no, your spellchecker does not count
5. There is no such thing as perfect grammar
Some people still use the word “homophone” for words that look or sound similar. In reality, it’s much more complex than that. Syllabuses can be used instead of syllabli, and with things such as a ghost subject existing, it’s impossible to have the perfect clarity all the time.
Best books to read:
Collins Improve your writing skills
A back to basics guide to English grammar and punctuation. Each function is described in depth throughout the volumes, including commas, cliches, nouns, abstract content, sentence functions and the nine parts of speech. Utterly essential to cut down on excessive proofreading.
The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Lodge devotee each chapter to a plot device, in chronological order of the sections of a book, and attributes an author who effectively employs this technique. Ideal if you have not attended a creative writing class (although there really is no substitute).
The Little book of Clarity
This book proves that clarity begins at home, and without a clear mind, your writing will be cluttered. Graphologists who study handwriting can detect the writer’s mental state by how wobbly the letters are, whether the ink is smudged. So, in order to make use of the creative creature in you, you must first gain zen and mental clarity.