Meaning Trumps Grammar

When writing or learning a language, prioritizing is the difference between a heap of incomprehensible text and sharp prose.

Meaning is more important than anything else.

Let’s say I’m going to order a coffee in Italy. I don’t know any Italian, but I can guess the word coffee would be understood. If I approach the barista, smile and say “coffee” with a question intonation, I’m willing to bet I’ll get some caffeinated goodness. Were I to attempt to say in Italian “Good morning, I’d like an americano without any milk or sugar please”, I’d likely be met with a blank stare. Putting meaning first will help you get your point across. My flailing Italian sentence would distract the barista far more than it would assist in getting my point across.

Many language learners are obsessed with distractions that don’t clarify meaning. I’m looking at you filler words, commas, fake grammar rules (split infinitives, ending sentences with prepositions) and otherwise trying to use ‘proper English’.

Luckily I have some grammatically correct English to use as an example:

[The]…tenant in the demised premises stands aggrieved by the pronouncement made by the learned Executing Court upon his objections constituted therebefore … wherewithin the apposite unfoldments qua his resistance to the execution of the decree stood discountenanced by the learned Executing Court. source

Adding a few commas or otherwise fixing ‘mistakes’ isn’t going to transform that into something readable.

My advice for those needing to write an email, blog post or whatever in English (or in any language really): start with a tweet.

This forces you to figure out what information is essential. Everything you add to your text beyond that tweet must serve the purpose of somehow clarifying or improving the original tweet.

Now the question isn’t ‘Is it grammatically correct to do [x]’? Rather, the question becomes, ‘Does doing [x] make it easier for my reader to understand my text?”

Hence, the only answer I’ve been able to muster lately to whether [x] is correct or a mistake is .