Ignoring Grammar

Yup, I do it sometimes. All authors do it sometimes (especially if they want their dialog to be believable). In this post, I’m going to discuss when I ignore grammar, and why.

Okay, so let me start by mentioning that grammarians (which is apparently an actual word) have divided their study into two basic schools: descriptive and prescriptive. The prescriptive school of grammar teaches that grammar consists of unbreakable rules, that ought to be followed by the letter. Under the prescriptive system, such ideas as right and wrong exist and are enforceable.

The other school, that of descriptive grammar, argues that the common usage is correct, even when it disobeys the scholastic rules. For example: “And I want a puppy, and a bicycle, and one of those little doll houses with the curtains and everything! Ooh, but if you can only get one, I want the puppy.” Or, to be a little more extreme: “Yes’m. I knows em. When was you thinking I’d a be around?”

Breaking the rules of grammar should rarely happen in narration, but often in dialog. The ways in which certain characters break the rules (and their knowledge about those rules in the first place) help differentiate them from others, and are a product of the time and place where the novel is set. In other words, grammar can be used as yet another tool for characterization—but the huge caveat is, even if your narrator wouldn’t typically have proper grammar, the narration should. Proper grammar equates very closely to ease of reading, and narration that is difficult to read is a guaranteed turn-off.

I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re looking for a book on grammar, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style comes highly recommended, and there are any number of others out there. The added bonus is that, if you understand the contents well, you might be able to edit your own work (for grammatical errors, at least). As always, if you have any reactions, comments, or questions, leave a comment down below.

3 thoughts on “Ignoring Grammar

  1. This is pretty much how I feel about grammar. I try to be as grammatically correct as I can in my narration, but it’s the character’s decision on dialogue. Depending on who’s speaking, they range anywhere from dropping letters of words to refusing to use contractions (that’s my oldest gods and my dragons).
    Thanks for the recommendation of where to look for grammar rules. I had to turn to Grammarbook.com to answer a question I had about quotations. Turns out, what I thought was correct is most likely a British rule and not American. (Why did American grammarians have to oversimplify some things and make them illogical?)
    Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    1. No problem 🙂 I’ve run into the American vs. British grammar a few times as well (in particular, “toward” and “towards”), and I don’t get the reasoning behind the inconsistencies either. Especially in some cases, where the two versions accomplish the same goal in minutely different ways.

      1. The rule I was agonizing over was the one pertaining to “punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks.” British grammar has exceptions to this rule, which make more sense to me.

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