An American Editor

August 30, 2014

Worth Reading: Steven Pinker on 10 “Grammar Rules”

Steven Pinker is one of my favorite authors. I have many of his books in my library and have his forthcoming book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, on preorder (publication date is September 30, 2014).

A couple of weeks ago, Pinker wrote an article for The Guardian. The article, “10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes),” is well worth reading. In the article, Pinker outlines the questions you should ask to “distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions” and the questions to be asked — and if answered “yes” — to reject a grammar “rule.”

The 10 “grammar rules” Pinker addresses are:

  • and, because, but, or, so, also
  • dangling modifiers
  • like, as, such as
  • preposition at the end of a sentence
  • predicative nominative
  • split infinitives
  • that and which
  • who and whom
  • very unique
  • count nouns, mass nouns and “ten items or less”

I’ve saved the article for future reference. What do you think of it?

1 Comment »

  1. I think it is a sensible evaluation of the state of things, but I do disagree with a few of his points. Nevertheless, the article has raised my awareness of things I’ve taken for granted, and going forward I will pause to consider what I used to pass over and react to like Pavlov’s dog.

    It helps to work heavily in fiction, where “rules” are broken on nearly every page! I let a lot of things go, then turn around and get obsessive about others (for instance, the serial comma). There’s a proper balance somewhere between letting the language morph and holding on to standards. The challenge is finding that balance, and allowing it to evolve over time.

    Like

    Comment by Carolyn — August 30, 2014 @ 8:02 pm | Reply


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