Writing Tip (Sort of): Opinions on Grammar

I'm calling this a "Sort-of Writing Tip," because part of my point in this post is that grammar is malleable. AP style, used for journalism, treats commas and dashes  differently than APA style, which is often used for scientific reporting. Often, book editors will use Chicago style, which I tend to like, except for my strong disagreements with them about the frequency with which we should use ampersands.


When I work as a freelance editor, I edit according to what the client needs. Generally, that means I'll follow Chicago style. Overall, I'm usually checking for things like clarity--does the writing make sense?--and then for things like verb tense and spelling mistakes. So often, these particular discrepancies don't even come into play. Regardless, I still have opinions, and that's why I have my very own blog! So I can share them!

So, I figured I'd share some of my opinions about grammar, punctuation, and style in this post. And they're just that: opinions. You don't have to write according to my opinions, and I don't have to write according to yours. Unless you're publishing me; then I guess I do.

Ampersands:

The ampersand is my favorite punctuation mark, which is why I have a tattoo of it on my left ankle. I believe that we should use ampersands freely and liberally whenever we want. Almost every style guide is going to disagree with me on that, so please do NOT take my advice on ampersands if you're writing any sort of academic paper right now.

The reason I like ampersands is similar to my reasoning behind a lot of my opinions on grammar--you can use them to avoid confusion. Any linguistic tools you can use to make your writing clearer for the reader, I encourage! However, not every style guide is going to agree with that. 

Here's an example. Let's say you have to hang a sign that says, "Cakes and Pies" in the grocery store. But you didn't leave enough space between each word! So your manager comes up to you and says, "The sign looks good, but you need more space between cakes and and and and and pies." That looks horrible written out. I'd much rather write that as, "You need more space between cakes & and & and & pies," because I think that's much easier to understand. But to each their own. (I'm also a supporter of the singular "they," but a lot of people have already covered this topic beautifully. Comment below if you'd like me to go into more detail on my opinions about that.)

Subjunctive Verbs:

In Spanish, it's easy to tell when something's in the subjunctive, because they make you conjugate all the verbs differently. In English, it's similar enough to regular past-tense that often people forget English even has a subjunctive.

I guess this is an opinion in a way, because grammar changes over time, so if everyone stops using the subjunctive in English, then I guess it stops existing, since language is developed by people. However, we currently do have a subjunctive, or at least the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style recognizes one.

So, there are three main verb moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. Moods are different from tenses because they don't have to do with past or present; rather, they are determined based on whether you're making a statement, commanding someone to do something, or pondering a hypothetical.

The majority of the things we say or write are going to be in the indicative mood. If you say "John went to the store," that's indicative. You're just stating something, indicating that something happened. If you tell John, "Go to the store," that's imperative, because you're commanding someone to do something, with the subject being implied. Now, for the subjunctive: what if you asked John to go to the store, but you don't believe he's really going to do it? Maybe you could say, "If John were to go to the store, my life would be a lot easier." In this case, you use the past-tense plural "were," plus the infinitive "to go," to imply that you are speaking of a hypothetical situation that you don't believe really happened. Conversely, if you say, "If John goes to the store, my life will be a lot easier," you're using the indicative mood, which implies that you DO believe John will go to the store.

If this doesn't make sense, it's because I'm secretly a curmudgeonly old lady in a 25-year-old's body, and I'm clinging on to a few of the dying forms in English. But it does go back to my rule of looking at writing in terms of clarity: with that shift in verb mood, you can subtly indicate whether you actually believe someone is going to do something. Think of the passive-aggressive possibilities!

Semicolons:

I once had a teacher (whom I respect quite a lot) tell me that she doesn't like when people use semicolons before the word "but"; but I like semicolons before but. Actually, I kind of want to get a tattoo of a semicolon on my butt. Forget the main point of this; what do you guys think of that as a tattoo? Put your opinions in the comments.

So, what are your thoughts on grammar? And on my tattoo ideas?

Happy writing!
Savy

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