Do grammarians take things too far?

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Yes, there are languages rules, but sometimes grammar purity doesn’t know when to stop.

It may not have felt this way in your 10th grade English class, but our language is ever shifting. Things that used to be deemed “wrong” for decades can be decreed allowable by the powers that be. For instance, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook long had a rule that you should only use “more than” when talking about numbers instead of “over.” Then in 2014, at the annual American Copy Editors Society meeting, the new style changes included one that said more than and over were both acceptable.

Who makes the rules?

What does this mean for you, floating out there in the grammar galaxy? To start with, anyone involved in writing for their job probably follows a style guide—where the publication or group has decided how they feel about certain, more arbitrary rules of grammar and punctuation (and if you need help crafting one, we’re here for you—check this out). You also can opt to follow the rules established by another group, such as the aforementioned AP or, the other bastion of writing rules, the Chicago Manual of Style. Finally, there’s always the dictionary if you have an unresolved question about a word’s usage.

Change happens.

So that’s a bit about where the rules come from. Now, let’s discuss how those rules change. Back to 10th grade English class for a moment. Odds are you read a wee bit of Shakespeare in high school. While the Bard probably tweaked his language a bit, for the most part, that was how people “talked” in the 1600s. Yet we aren’t thee-ing and thou-ing today. What happened? Change, my friend, change. Language evolves, sometimes quickly (who could have ever imagined “googling” in 1990?), and other times more slowly (i.e. more than vs. over).

Break rules.

Now, we like grammar rules, and we love a style guide. But they aren’t the same thing. A style guide offers the rules that you create for your business or publication or whatever. They can be changed. But even something that is deemed grammatically incorrect—Her is hungry—is only wrong because that is not the common way the majority of us have decided to use our language. Tomorrow, people could wake up and start saying “Her is” and in a few years or decades that could be the new “rule.” 

Even that which is currently deemed ungrammatical is subject to change over time. No one is going to hunt you down if you split your infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition. Sure, your grandmother may frown at you, but she doesn’t make the rules, and neither do you.