My Writing Rules Differ From Yours #1

This post is approximately 800 words and talks about grammar. I mean, a lot. Now’s your chance to flee.


“Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”

Still here? Cool. Now we can nerd out about grammar without the eye-rolling judgment of boring people.

This will be the first in a series of recurring posts about English grammar. As a person who delights in the rules (and their exceptions), the eccentricities, and the history of the language, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d be a crusty curmudgeon about the guidelines, norms, and other grammatical commandments. And often, you’d be right. But it also means I put a tremendous amount of brainpower into thinking about the rules.

And how I’m going to break them.

Don’t get me wrong: the rules are great. They aid comprehension and help ensure understanding between author and reader. However, in the fantasy world I’m creating, I’m making up everything from character names to locations to vocabulary. All of these things need to be understood by the reader, especially in instances where I’m breaking a rule to conform to the norms of my created world. If I can prepare the readers in some way, by the time she or he gets to my non-standard phrase, they immediately understand what I’m saying. They’ve been taught without knowing it.

I’ll use a real-world example so I don’t get you hung up on characters named Flurbbydurm and Nicanick or whatever other nonsense I can conceive (Note: these aren’t really from my book). As a product owner at Thomson Reuters, I’m frequently asked questions by email. My first inclination is to write back, “I have As to your Qs.” Now, every English-speaker I know, including myself, will read “I have as”, possibly understanding my intent when they get to “Qs”. But as a writer, I’ve failed my readers. I’ve written something they thought they understood, only to immediately discover they read it wrong. I’ve ruined the flow and broken the reader’s concentration. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves as a reader, whether for pleasure or work.

Current convention suggests that Q’s and A’s are the acceptable forms, though I believe grammatical rules disagree. You might be thinking, “But Mike, if you’re adhering to the rule, how can you be breaking it?” Well, if everyone believes something counter to the rule, is it still a rule? In college, yes; otherwise…frequently not.  Anyways, it’s my first post on this – I want to ease you into my head my world.

Philosophical grammatical arguments aside (tell me THAT doesn’t sound like an obscure college major…that I wish I had), I generally despise using apostrophes for things other than possessive pronouns, contractions, single quotation marks, and sometimes as part of a colloquial abbreviation (Y’all comin’ back? Yeah I know, you probably won’t after a 800-word post about grammar. Sigh.). Oh, and names, like D’Artagnan.

That’s a really long way of saying, I won’t type DVD’s, CD’s, or DVR’s. And I certainly won’t type A’s and Q’s, no matter what the opinion du jour is.

As a writer, your first inclination should be to re-write. That’s your other option here, and perhaps easier to accomplish without sounding pedantic <looks in mirror>. Yes, yes, what we’re writing is personal and we’re in charge and it’s our way or the highway. Unless you’re doing the reader a disservice. Yes, yes, I know I’m delighting myself more than my audience when I type an email with Qs and As. But it amuses me.

Did you catch what you just read there? You probably didn’t read “as” this time, which means I’ve done the proper set-up. I also reversed the order: since “qs” isn’t a word, you read “Qs”, which put you in the right mindset to read “As”. And there’s the second option, also fulfilled: rewrite it. I usually prefer one or the other, but in this instance, I’ve served the audience’s need for comprehension and my selfish need to be clever.

Those people that read through this – and I thank you for bearing with me – might think that this was an awful lot of words in discussion of a single English rule. Now you know a little bit more about the thought I put into everything I write.

And I do mean everything.


PS: Interesting side note for future me: I spent much of this post singing the “Family Finger Song” to Benji as I wrote it. I’m not sure how I typed one thing whilst singing another.

Enjoy what you just read? Welcome, fellow grammarian! Be sure to like the post or subscribe to ensure Michael writes more just like it!