The limits of rules

March 13, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Let me say more compactly what I tried to say earlier today.

The presacriptivist/descriptivist debate is increasingly sterile. Hard-shell prescriptivists trumpet indefensible bogus rules, and hard-shell descriptivists, the ones who proclaim, "Prescriptivism must die," overlook the real need to prescribe reliable advice on writing.

It comes down to this: Effective writing requires making sound choices about grammar, usage, syntax, and diction, considering subject, occasion, and audience. Making sound choices requires judgment, and judgment cannot be reduced to adherence to a set of rules.

If merely following a set of rules led to effective writing, everyone could write effectively.

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