How to Break Grammar Rules

similar cubes with rules inscription on windowsill in building

Ever heard of the saying, “Learn the rules so you can break them” or something else along those lines? Well, how exactly do you break rules in writing? Why would you want to break rules in writing? I’ll be honest; I was always focused on following the rules, so much so that I didn’t even think about bending them until I realized I was doing so. Somehow, by being able to tell you all the tense errors in a passage and why a sentence didn’t work, I instinctively began to alter my writing in a way that still read like it was correct—but was actually grammatically wrong.

The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t break the rules unless you want to achieve something. Whether that’s to slow a sentence down, portray an emotion, or create realistic dialogue, there has to be a purpose for your grammar antics. That’s why it’s important to first know the rules. Just because you’re extending a sentence beyond a correct length doesn’t give you an excuse to throw spelling, tense, and adjective placement (and more) out the window. A good writer can feel the pause of a comma and understand exactly what it achieves, allowing them to use more than is appropriate to create long, flowing sentences that reflect the river they are describing.

To tell you the truth, it would take me a long time to list out all the ways I’ve personally violated the grammar rules, but I’ll give you an example to show you where to start. Remember, there’s no substitute for actually being able to write an essay or story with next to no mistakes—or at least having the knowledge to fix them afterwards. Only then can you begin to internalize the building blocks of writing, eventually reaching the stage where you’ll be able to rearrange those blocks in unconventional ways.

Example #1: One-word sentences

Note: The sentence doesn’t make sense without context, but context is spoilers . . . so no context!

“And so, when Reine’s knuckles slammed into the moonless night, her all impacting the obsidian like a tactical nuke, every fiber of her being hell-bent on transferring destruction through the fist that held her dreams, no one was more exhilarated to find out than her—more surprised to find out than her—more devastated to find out than her that . . . she had . . . failed.


Reine hadn’t even made a dent.”

The second “failed” here technically isn’t needed. In fact, it’s grammatically wrong because “failed” by itself isn’t like “Hi” or “Go,” which are words that count as one-word sentences. So why did I use it? Emphasis. I wanted to show the disbelief Reine was feeling, to tell the world that she couldn’t believe she had failed. Having the word repeated demonstrated her need to confirm to herself that this was really happening. She hadn’t just been set back, no . . . she was completely screwed.

Happy Writing!
Austin Wen

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