Go Ahead, Break a Few Grammar Rules

breaking grammar rulesWriting is hard. And English grammar rules can be strict. But sometimes, you need to break them to become a better writer.

“When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely,” writes Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast (1964).

This sentence flouts a few basic grammar rules for grammatical purists, with its simple adjectives, repetitive “and” and lack of a comma after “Paris.”

But his words sing.


Writing is hard. And English grammar rules can be strict. But sometimes, you need to break them to become a better writer. Click To Tweet


How to write is drilled into us by our culture, upbringing and our teachers. We’re not taught how to let our words sing. And often, we follow grammar rules intuitively (online tools help to make sure we do, no matter what). Take this rule: Adjectives in English shall be written in this order: opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose, noun.

Try it. You can have a “lovely little old rectangular green French silver pocket knife.” Better not to mess with that order. And since size comes before color, a “green big car” can’t exist. Or can it?

Yes, you need to break this rule eventually. For example, if you have two big cars and one small one, and one of the big cars is green and the small one is also green, you have to refer to the “green big car,” to be specific, thus breaking the rule.

That’s why artificial intelligence will never replace a good writer — or a sharp editor.

So, good writing follows specific rules that can guide you. Great writing goes way beyond these rules. It helps set you apart. You write and use what you know and find words that inspire you to get your readers involved. You tell stories.

And, yes, you are allowed to start sentences with “and” and “but,” just as Hemingway did: “But sometimes, when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going […], I would write one true sentence and then go on from there.”

Keep on going, write your true sentence, and occasionally silence a grammar rule or two.


Writing Should Open a Vein


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