Sunday, 13 September 2015

To Nit-pick or not to Nit-pick - That is the Question

Grammar and punctuation, the ability to put words together to form a sentence that informs, appeals or just make sense, are the tools of a writer’s trade. I was brought up in an age where there was a correctness that could not be transgressed. Heaven forbid, for example, that one should end a sentence with a preposition!

Westminster Abbey
It’s quite difficult to rid oneself of rules that have been instilled when one is at that sponge-like age
and the teacher was always, yes, always right. I have no complaints. I loved the intricacies of the English language. I still do. But I am older and, I hope, a little wiser. It took me a long time though to ‘give way’. It wasn’t until my stepson was studying English at university that it struck me with resounding clarity that language evolves. It is evolving all the time. A conclusion you might think I’d have come to years earlier but it wasn’t the case. I was pompous! (I’m allowed to say that; you are not)

I never studied mediaeval English at school and when I looked at some of those manuscripts I realised I couldn’t read them. Absolutely could not read them. They made perfect sense in the Middle Ages and some were very beautiful but could I decipher them? No way. And how many of us studied Shakespeare at school? I hope you’ve noticed I began that sentence with ‘And’. Begin with a conjunction! Huh!

A few days ago my husband and I went to see a superb production of Romeo and Juliet. There’s no way people would speak like that today but the language was expressive and its meaning absolutely clear…fortunately Shakespearean English is a lot easier than its predecessor.

I have just begun writing a new book. Those of you who follow this blog will know that I am moving from contemporary romantic fiction to a romance set in Regency times. You will have learned how fond I am of that particular period of history but what you may not appreciate is what a joy it is to write prose and dialogue in such a rich form. There is a romance not just about the period but about the language too. I am having so much fun.

So let’s come forward a few more years…to text speak and tweeting. It really did take me a long time to come to terms with these two methods of communication until I realised that the operative word was – communication. It may not be beautiful but in its own way it’s just as creative, as anyone who tweets will know when trying to convey their meaning in just 140 characters.

I have come to the conclusion that, aside from the niceties, the purpose of language is to get one’s message across. If we can succeed in doing that we open our own world and hopefully that of others. I still cringe though when I see commas in the wrong place and misplaced apostrophes.

How do you feel about this controversial subject? If when you read this you find I have been guilty of these and other errors, please be kind. I’m human too.


  1. I can smile at your post as I'm definitely someone who has at least one writerly friend that likes to add punctuation to my work, they will remain nameless! However, as much as I appreciate that it's all about the story for me. If the story has grabbed me I can forgive minor transgressions in punctuation, mainly because I wouldn't notice them. It's the story that matters.

    1. You're right of course, Elaine. No amount of punctuation and grammar can compensate if you don't have the ability to tell a good tale. Fortunately you have that in spades.

  2. I've always told my students that creativity is more important than grammar - it's something that can't be learnt. Ive seen many a grammar pedant who can't tell a story however hard they dot their tees and cross their eyes!!!

    1. No argument from me. Stilted is the word that comes to mind. You can always change a plot and deal with edits but if you can't write a good story, just can't!

  3. Thumbs up from me too, Natalie. If anyone says apostrophes don't do anything, I trot out the old chestnut 'Both the professors wives are called Jane.' A good tale is vital but so is clarity. Thanks for a great post x