Grammar rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes.
Fairly soon after I was hired, I became the team proofreader at Revel. I take this part of my job incredibly seriously, and I probably take it a little too personally when something slips past my eye grammatically. I loathe comma splices, love a well-placed semi-colon, and would almost always choose a dash over parentheses. I think grammar is a writing helper that allows people to share their ideas clearly and with meaning. And I think sometimes breaking the rules of grammar makes for better writing.
The truth is, the English language is constantly adapting. For example, in 2011, the Oxford English Dictionary, long considered the authority for what is and isn’t a word in the English language, expanded the meaning of the word “literally” to include its metaphorical, colloquial use, creating quite an uproar for us English nerds at the time. Now, “literally” can be used literally, and it can be used figuratively, and both are considered correct usage grammatically.
It’s not easy to keep up with how language is evolving—which is why it’s good to have people like me on your team who like to stay in the know.
With that in mind, here are three current grammar trends to be aware of in today’s digital landscape:1. Emojis as Punctuation Marks
In the era of digital communication, emojis have become prevalent in our written conversations. R.P. O’Donnell, an American who now lives and writes in Ireland, suggests, “Emojis, it can be argued, are a punctuation surrogate — if not a replacement. They’re a faster, more direct way of conveying the writer’s emotions and have become understandably endemic.”
Think of a text message you’ve sent recently. More than likely, especially if you’re Gen X or younger, you used an emoji as punctuation without even realizing it. Take this message I sent to my friend getting married this weekend — “Happy wedding week! Thinking of you as you’re in the homestretch. Love you lots ❤️” Here, the heart takes the place of standard punctuation.
We’re going to see instances like this that were once reserved for text message communications bleed into our professional lives. These visual elements not only add a touch of emotion and tone to our messages but also influence the way we structure our sentences and express ourselves. In 2023, it is important to be mindful of how emojis are integrated into our writing and overall clarity of communication.2. Sentence Fragments for Emphasis
A sentence is structured to share a complete thought; a sentence fragment is an incomplete “error” that typically needs to be fixed. However, as informal writing structures bleed into more formal spaces, sentence fragments are increasingly being used for emphasis and stylistic effects. Writers are intentionally breaking traditional grammatical rules by using incomplete sentences or phrases to convey a sense of urgency, or emphasis, or to create a specific tone.
For example, as our team at Revel provides feedback for one another in our project management dashboard, the sentence fragments are plentiful—often a single word can convey a whole host of meaning and appreciation. When we look at the work we do for our clients, we often use sentence fragments to help craft a particular tone. Take our latest campaign for Action Industrial Supply. We wanted to help bring customers to their Grand Rapids store, so we crafted a headline that included a sentence fragment to keep the message simple and easy to remember: “It’s Time. For New Stuff.” You can check out the campaign (and go hunting for sentence fragments) at myworkstuffsucks.com.
It’s worth noting that while this trend can be effective in certain contexts, it's important to use sentence fragments judiciously and understand when they are appropriate for the desired impact, and when they may hinder clarity or comprehension. The last thing you want to do is confuse your reader.3. Grammatical Flexibility in Digital Spaces
Sentence fragments are one example of the “grammatical flexibility” leading today’s writing. Online spaces like Reddit forums and social media platforms have allowed for a more relaxed approach to grammar. Unconventional sentence structures, abbreviations, and even deliberate misspellings are accepted. In fact, we use them all the time in our email communications. For example, we might send a message like this at Revel:
“Your proposal looks great! Let's schedule a meeting to discuss further and iron out the details. How about next Tuesday at 2 PM? Looking forward to it!"
There are three things worth noting as “grammatical flexibility” in this example:
- The tone is friendly and conversational, rather than formal and impersonal.
- It uses contractions (“let’s) instead of full-form words (“let us”).
- It ends with a sentence fragment. (“Looking forward to it!” doesn’t have an identifiable subject.)
You’ll notice that this trend is driven by the need for brevity and speed in online conversations. This is why it is crucial to maintain a balance between adapting to digital spaces and adhering to standard grammatical rules, especially in professional contexts.
It seems that 2023 is about breaking the rules. As the English language adapts to more informal structures, we writers have to follow suit. We have to know the rules of grammar so that we know when the best choice is to not play by them. You’ll probably never see an emoji or deliberate misspelling in my writing, but I guarantee you’ll see a sentence fragment or two. It’s a part of my evolution. 😎