Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 24, 2014

7 Authors Who Broke Grammar Rules


Booksellers bare all to protest censorship attempt of ‘Everybody Gets Naked’ children’s book: A prominent conservative French politician wants to censor the nude picture book, but publishers and booksellers have defended the book by authors Claire Frank and Marc Daniau.  Read more:


The Huffington Post had an good article last week titled, These Famous Authors Made It Okay To Commit Grammar No-No’s. (Get Link at bottom)

Here are 7 authors who beautifully broke the language and grammar rules your high school English teachers taught you:

Double negatives


Frequent user: Jane Austen Example: “She owned that, considering every thing, she was not absolutely without inclination for the party.” from Emma Why it’s okay: Jane Austen did not neglect to use double negatives in her writing. Often, as in the example above, she used redundancy to denote a character’s snootiness. To show that the grand dame of Highbury was hesitant to act excited about a dinner party, Austen chooses to express her support convolutedly. The effect, more often than not, was to note the humor in the pretentiousness of high society.

Run-on sentences


Frequent user: Charles Dickens Example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” from A Tale of Two Cities Why it’s okay: Dickens’s long sentences are not the result of being paid by the word, contrary to popular belief (in fact, his contracts for books such as Bleak House were based on sales, not word count). His long-windedness served a purpose: It was often meant to satirize the rambling speech of those affiliated with the institutions that he often criticized.



Frequent user: E.E. Cummings Example: “i sing of Olaf glad and big/whose warmest heart recoiled at war” from “i sing of Olaf glad and big” Why it’s okay: In general poets take more liberties with grammatical rules than novelists, who are expected to communicate using paragraphs and sentences rather than more contracted observations. Cummings was especially experimental, and often used a lowercase “i” (also seen in the first line of one of his well-known love poems: “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”). In “i sing of Olaf glad and big,” the lowercase “i” is contrasted by the uppercase “Olaf,” denoting the unimportance of the teller of the poem relative to the poem’s subject. His name is also sometimes written with unconventional orthography (e e cummings).

Starting a sentence with a conjunction


Frequent user: William Faulkner Example: “He had never seen a home, so there was nothing for him to say about it. And he was not old enough to talk and say nothing at the same time.” from Light in August Why it’s okay: Faulker, writer of five-word long chapters, bent all sorts of grammar rules. He, like Cummings, had an orthography of his own, and took liberties with capitalization. He also began sentences with conjunctions, seeming to adhere to the rule that a sentence should simply be a complete thought. The above quote contains two sentences, each with disparate but connected thoughts, so separating it into two sentences is phonetically pleasing.

Incomplete sentences


Frequent user: H. L. Mencken Example: “Ticket-sellers in the subway, breathing sweat in its gaseous form…. Farmers plowing sterile fields behind sad meditative horses, both suffering from the bites of insects….Grocery-clerks trying to make assignations with soapy servant girls….” from “Diligence,” A Mencken Chrestomathy Why it’s okay: Shakespeare, Dickens, and just about every other classic author has used some form of an incomplete sentence, including the above-mentioned sentences beginning with a conjunction. There are plenty of reasons for doing this, such as creating a sense of alarm with onomatopoeias, or a sense of anxiety with a paragraph full of choppy fragments. Mencken’s purpose was the latter.

Ending a sentence (or independent clause) with a preposition


Frequent user: William Shakespeare Example: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” from The Tempest Why it’s okay: This “rule” is mostly considered a myth by most grammarians. Grammar Girl uses the example of, “what did you step on?” It’d sound ridiculous and too formal to say, “on what did you step?” out loud. If a sentence or independent clause is more aesthetically pleasing when it’s arranged with the preposition at the end, then so be it. This quote would sound clunky if it were restructured to read, “Dreams are made on such stuff as we are.”

The subjunctive/passive voice


Frequent user:Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Example: “‘No, your boy had been observed, and that gave me a guide where to look.” from The Hound of the Baskervilles Why it’s okay: The passive voice can make for unclear writing, but sometimes, unclear writing is useful. When the subject of a sentence should be a mystery to the reader, the passive voice is an excellent way to achieve that effect. This trick is used by politicians looking to shirk blame, and is a great tool for thriller writers. “The girl had been murdered” is more gut-wrenching than “someone murdered the girl,” because it puts “the girl” at the forefront of the sentence without revealing who the murderer is.

Click Here to read the full article.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I have always believed that rules are made to be broken…especially when it comes to art forms like writing, painting etc. They are more like guidelines: you learn the rules so that you know when you are breaking them and why.


    • Caity,

      I totally agree. Thanks for sharing.



  2. Thanks for sharing this, Kathy. Glad to see there is a time and a place for broken rules!


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