Aintcha’ Gonna Use Good Grammar in that there Writin’?
Apologies in advance to English teachers, grammarians, and sentence-diagrammers everywhere, but sometimes you just gotta break the rules. The key is to know when and how.
When do you ditch perfect grammar? When it makes you sound like a pompous donkey.
If you want to communicate an open, warm, friendly tone, then you often will need to write the way you speak. If you speak like a pompous donkey, well, then, okay, write on. What does a pompous donkey sound like?
Donkey: “Is John Smith the person with whom I am to talk?”
Person: “Is John Smith who I’m supposed to talk to?”
Yes, you can use your who/whom correctly if you want, but if the entire phrase sounds stilted, ditch it and get the question out.
2. Braying #2: Ending a sentence with a preposition.
Donkey: That is an answer of which we had not thought.
Person: That is an answer we had not thought of.
Trying to get a preposition to fit smoothly somewhere else in the sentence often leads to donkey language. Either leave it where it is, as in the example above, or rewrite the sentence to avoid the situation altogether: We had not thought of that answer.
3. Braying #3: Splitting Infinitives.
Donkey: He promised personally to guarantee that Bonzo and Bozo would get a part in the show.
Person: He promised to personally guarantee that Bonzo and Bozo would get a part in the show.
Sometimes the verb has to get separated from the ‘to.’ Otherwise you might confuse a reader, like the donkey above. Which is personal, the guarantee or the promise? If you are afraid of grammar ghosts haunting you about doing this, relax. They are going after Gene Roddenberry, who is responsible for the famous “To boldly go where no man has gone before” split infinitive from Star Trek.
Essentially, remember your purpose and your audience, and the grammar rules you need to follow will be clear. Language should help you make your point, not confuse it. Clarity trumps grammar. Ideally perhaps you could rewrite the sentence completely to please all the camps. That way, if you have a few sticklers in the audience, you won’t receive responses like the one Winston Churchill wrote to his secretary. When she corrected one of his speeches in which he sentence ended with a preposition, he said, “Madam, that is something up with which I will not put.”