The Chosen – May’s book Selection: “The Sense of Style”

“The Sense of Style: The thinking persons guide to writing in the 21st century” by Steven Pinker is not your average writing advice book. In fact it really has nothing to do with a book writing either fiction or non-fiction. Instead it focuses on the art of using language correctly.

Pinker holds a doctorate in psychology in experimental psychology from Harvard University where he also taught for a long period. He also  specialized in  computational  learning theory as well as language acquisition. I am going to assume that this last area of interest is what led him to write this particular book. However, I have no data to support this theory. But, this particular book does focus on the use of language and in particular its focuses on archaic and obsolete rules of grammar that are best left behind as our language continues to evolve. And, our language does evolve. anyone who as read a text from the 1500s can clearly tell that we do not speak the same language as they did in Medieval Europe. And this research, and the knowledge gained from it, appears to be the basis for this particular book,  and it is why I have chosen it as the book of the month for May.

The first half of the book explains why certain grammar rules were created and how many of them were based on Latin forms of verb declension rules, as many other current grammar rules that also have Latin base connections. Such things as split infinities, never ending a sentence in a preposition, when to use you like and as, when to use whom or who, that or which, and so much more.

I will be the first to admit that the first half of the book is very dry. However, the first half of the book explains what the rule is and why it was important. The second half of the book which tells you why the rule is either obsolete or needs to be drastically modified was excellent. It includes clear examples of the rule in action and then a second example, of the same sentence, where the rule was either eliminated or modified. It is when you modify a rule or eliminate it completely that you create your own sense of style. However, and this is important, you must know the rules first in order to break them correctly later. If you do not: talking like Yoda, you will be.

Breaking grammar rules effectively and on occasion to make a certain point is part of creating your own writing style, or what they call your voice. However, I caution you to do this very sparingly. It is like adding pepper to a pot of stew, a little goes a long way. Add too much and it becomes inedible. In the same way, too many broken grammatical rules will make your work unreadable.

One final caveat, this book is definitely not for the grammar police or grammar Nazis. Or, any English teacher that may be set in their ways and is not open to new ideas.

It can be found on Amazon at: The Sense of Style

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