Style By Ben: Brushing Up on Everyday Grammar

As the go-to writer on our team, I am often asked questions about grammar, spelling, phrasing, punctuation and the AP Style guide we follow. Sometimes I know the answer, and sometimes I don’t; for its seeming universality, English is a tricky language to both learn and use. The truth is, I contradict myself often (it’s all about context!) and sometimes I’m even hypocritical.

Language is an evolving, imperfect tool, and English is an especially inconsistent one. Ask anyone who learned a romance language in grade school and they’ll tell you they learned more about grammar than they did, perhaps, in English class. It is also more flexible than some would like to admit; there are rules, but they’re meant to be broken, and often are.

There is plenty to be confused about, given the disparities in written and spoken American English, colloquialisms, slang and other conventional shorthand, plus the fact that we all learned it a little bit differently. I always say, so long as you’re following conventional rules, and your sentence is written as clearly and concisely as possible, then you’re good to go; the point is to be understood.

Here at Block Club, we review these questions with a weekly segment we like to call Style By Ben. (I did not name this. It’s funny because my style is a hoodie and plaid shirt.)

Every Monday, during our weekly team meeting, I share a short lesson about a common concern, which we then discuss and sometimes vent about, too. It’s a good chat, held without pressure or embarrassment, that offers with the chance to sharpen our knives and come to consensus about how our company will adopt these fluid rules.

I use plenty of online resources, too, including The Oatmeal, Howcast’s Grammar Lessons, Grammarist and Grammar Girl. There are also great podcasts out there, too, and certainly an infinite supply of books. They may offer different advice on any given topic, but again, this is an imperfect art. Consistency is key, no matter which grammar bible you follow.

If this is something your team struggles with, or maybe you don’t have a writerly type on-hand, you might consider a recurring grammar conversation. I bet you’ll find that the concerns you have are shared by others around you. I certainly don’t know all the answers, and make mistakes just like anybody else. But if your team works together to figure out what uses make sense and what don’t, then at least you’ll be speaking the same language.