The Difference Between Grammar and Writing Style

Did you know writing has style? Not just pulp fiction or horror novels either; style is actually one of the most important elements of a writer’s work. It’s no surprise that there are lots of vocabulary words associated with the craft of writing: if you’re going to use language as the primary tool of your trade, adding words to talk about words is a natural step. Grammar and style are some of the elementary aspects of writing one must understand to write well. What’s the difference? It’s a big one, but it’s also blurry—and tense.  

Grammar: Know the Rules

Simply put, grammar is correct use of English. This means a knowledge of punctuation rules; understanding the difference between a plural and a possessive noun, proper subject-verb agreement, consistent pronouns, appropriate conjunctions….the list goes on. This is what you sat through for years in high school. This is why you maybe hated English class. This is completely necessary for a writer to master. The proper use of grammar is equated with professionalism, especially in our age of text-speak and Web jargon. If your writer doesn’t know the rules of grammar, the best-composed blog post of all time could be punctured by glaring confusion between to/two/too. You may think no one knows these rules or notices when they are broken: you are wrong. However, that’s not to say it’s unacceptable to break these rules—at times, that’s where the best writing emerges. Here is where we cross the border from grammar into style.

Style: Break the Rules

When it comes to your personal writing style, breaking the rules of grammar can be essential to achieve the effect on the reader you desire. Take as an example the acclaimed novel Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iwela. Iwela defies multiple grammar rules to achieve the style which has made his book a hit:

“Again and again he is hitting me and each blow from his hand is feeling on my skin like the flat side of machete. I am trying to scream, but he is knocking the air from my chest and then slapping my mouth. I am tasting blood. I am feeling like vomiting. The whole place around us is shaking, just shaking rotten fruit from the shelf, just sounding like it will be cracking into many piece and falling on top of us.”

Iwela’s disregard for the rules of punctuation and plural nouns add to the impact of his writing, keeping the pace swift and choppy. He makes the choice to assume the passive voice for much of the narrative, relying heavily on the verb “be” and its conjugations to come between his characters and the action. This is generally frowned on in proper use of English. Instead of writing “he is knocking,” English teachers would prefer “he knocks,” the active voice. But by casting off these common constraints, Iwela constructs a masterpiece. The passive voice works to pull us into the action, not detach us from it; yet at the same time it shows us the narrator’s own detachment from the world around him.

Your own personal writing style can evolve similarly. You can pick which rules to follow and which to disregard. But here’s the rub: you can’t break the rules if you don’t know them. Or rather, you will break the rules on accident, but instead of making you look like a professional this error could make you look foolish. Style is a personal choice which can even change from piece to piece: your email style will differ from your blog style. But across the board, grammar applies. Master the rules, and then throw them out the window in the name of art—or at least, communication.

Want to gain a better grasp on grammar so you can continue developing your own personal style? We offer a number of writing workshops, from a Grammar Crash Course to more advanced Blog Writing and Social Media Writing Workshops. Click here to learn more about our writing classes today.

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