My attitude on grammar (and language change)

Not being an expert on English means that I’m not an expert on the official “rules” of, say, grammar – which means that I don’t necessarily always adhere to them. In my view, clarity is what counts and the rules are only useful to the extent that they contribute to clarity. In short, being clear is more important than being correct.

The primary purpose of any language is, after all, communication.

There are times when you have to be as “correct” as possible because you are writing for an audience that expects or demands it, but even then I try not to completely lose sight of the reason for what I am doing.

There’s an important rationale behind my somewhat cavalier attitude. Language changes. The rules therefore also potentially change from time to time, so it doesn’t pay to get too attached to them. A living language – one that has native speakers – is rather like a living organism. No one designed it; it evolved. And English, being very much alive, is continuing to evolve even as we speak. (Literally, as we speak.) English, you see, belongs to its speakers, not to the grammarians. The rule-makers can try to constrain it, to impede the process of language change, but they will ultimately fail.

Language preceded grammarians – by several million years – and it was doing just fine without them.

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