Why you should use bad grammar--and stop being a stickler about useless things

"Free gift is technically redundant. A gift is free. Get it? So you should just say 'gift.'"

Do you have a friend who corrects you when something is ever so slightly technically incorrect? They're usually giddy with a big "gotcha.”

I hate that person.

Just kidding—but let me back up.

Here’s the deal: let’s stop being stickers about grammar and technical correctness if it causes us to miss the bigger picture. I see this a lot. People think they are smart because they catch a stylistic or grammatical error.

But sometimes, that's level 1. Elementary school level. And maybe there is a PhD level game being played around you, but you aren't able to see the strategy. It's okay—we've all been that person. This is why it's so important to consider why someone might have a bigger strategy in mind when they say or do anything.

Don't just think, "This person is stupid. They don't know anything." Because they might just be five steps ahead of you.

Ask yourself, "What can I steal from their playbook? What can I adopt and make my own? What didn't I like, so I can remind myself not to do that?" They might be using incorrect grammar ON PURPOSE.

What is it for?

Here are examples of phrasing that’s technically incorrect:

"Our nation must come together to unite.”

This was a quote from a George Bush speech. It's redundant. But it also ends on a great word: "unite." And "come together" creates positive feelings.

“I wanted to say personally that I’m sorry about what happened.”

Technically, “personally” is redundant.

“Here’s a short summary of the project.”

Technically, “short” and “summary” mean the same thing.”

Actually, here is a whole list of tautologies in everyday language. And I love them all.

[Note: I love language tautologies, not logical tautologies.]

To be clear, I support you adding emphasis to what you’re saying. If being a little redundant lets you end your sentence on a strategic word of your choosing. (Love this.) If they let you add zest or aliveness or poignancy to what you have to say.

Does your audience feel something? Anything?

The goal is to win hearts and minds. That’s it.

Getting people to FEEL SOMETHING always overrides conciseness, technical correctness, and anything else. There are conventions on every platform or medium, to be sure. But one consistent challenge is: it's incredibly hard to get people to care about you.

So if you have the chance to reach out and help someone care, do it. Ignore your one friend who would call you out on being redundant. Don't worry about whether your message is polished enough. Being polished might matter, or it might not. It's only a means to an end. The end is to change your audience.

The "what is it for" is to influence people, not to please your 10th grade English teacher.

What would move you closer to your goal?

Some people are sticklers about saying "whom” instead of “who.” I know the rules, but I also know there's a trade-off because in certain contexts, saying “whom” or “whomever" makes you sound 100% pompous.

It can be alienating. For the same reason, sometimes I'll end sentences with a preposition and I'm totally okay with it.

So you should weigh the upside and potential of sounding pompous, and decide if the word gets you closer to your goal. If your goal is to connect with people, you might want to prioritize sounding approachable. This is a strategic choice.

There are stylistic choices with saying:

"We should do this..."

Versus

"We ought to do this..."

The tone here is disarming and earnest because a word like "ought" reminds people of an honest farmer.

Check out the slightly different feelings you get from each of these, all saying the same thing:

  • "You must try."

  • "You have to try."

  • "You've got to try."


You can break convention if you know why you're doing it and have an assertion about why it will work.

So go ahead and say "free gift." Even seeing the word "free" makes your audience's eyes light up. Don't be worried about your 10th grade English teacher. We're not in school anymore.

The "grade" that matters is how close you are to getting the outcome you're aiming for. If you know the rules and want to strategically break them, do it.