Grammarian’s Rule, or Grammarians Rule?

You see a lot of comments on FB about “there, their, and they’re” and ”your and you’re”. This makes it seem like grammar is all about rules, and using the right words in the correct place of a sentence. Okay, yes it is. But, grammar really plays a much different role in language than English teachers correcting your sentence structure and word usage.

Actually, that is literally one of the definitions of what grammar is - sentence structure and word usage. But this is important, not because of rules for rules sake, but to make sure we all understand what is being conveyed. Proper grammar means speaking or writing in a manner that lets you be clearly and correctly understood by others. If that is achieved, technically you are using correct grammar.

Maybe the sentence “The person waiting for test results should be given his or her grade immediately.” does follow all the rules, but writing it as “The person waiting for test results should be given their grade immediately.” is okay in this English teacher’s book. Yes, technically “their“ a plural pronoun, and many writers get around this gender problem by making the subject plural as in “People waiting for test results should be given their grades immediately“. But, come on, no one is confusing “their” as indicating a singular gender neutral pronoun. The sentence is readily understood, and can be considered grammatically correct.

Grammar is not the static rules that some would lead you to believe. Frankly, these people were probably lead to believe the same thing at some point of their life. Grammar is an ever changing flow of language usage. The current “rules” were not always the rules. (codification of spelling, grammar, and punctuation is another fascinating rabbit hole to venture down). Grammar is not really about rules; it’s about clear understanding.


So go ahead and begin sentences with a conjunction, end a sentence with a preposition, and split your infinitives, but only if your meaning is clear when doing so.

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