The English language is a complex and sometimes savage beast – one that doesn’t submit willingly to taming or tinkering, at least not in the short term.
When you fiddle with the glue of grammar that holds it together some people can get a little twitchy. “You can’t do that! It’s just not cricket.” But the thing is, I love doing it – and it really frees up the mind for having a little fun and, critically, helps me hit on just the right combination of words to get the message across.
Perfecting a subheading for that article, a tagline for this campaign, or just the right way to tie up that video script, you’re constantly aware of the beast breathing over your shoulder. Is that the right verb form? Are those coordinate or cumulative adjectives? The beast is poised to strike, and you’re ready.
But how to slay the monster? Break its rules. It’s powerless to defeat you if you don’t acknowledge its presence. The thrill of finding just the right words to convey what you mean is magnified tenfold if you manage to break a few rules along the way. Come on, we’ve all done it. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Split an infinitive for better impact, start a sentence with a conjunction to mix things up, throw in a few fragments to change up the flow. Clarity wins, not rules. But a note of caution: if you don’t start from knowing how to apply the rules – how to work with the beast – you’re on dangerous ground.
While an adventurous attitude can pay dividends and there are many rules that can be broken, others demand respect lest you make a fool of yourself.
The trick is knowing which is which.