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Rewriting someone else’s text is part and parcel of my copywriting and communications work.  I enjoy it, but inevitably have to read errors of grammar and punctuation.  Some make me to groan inwardly every time I encounter them.

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Consider the use of however.  Too often, I see something like this:

The conference is free to all members, however early registration is strongly advised.

However in the sense of ‘but ‘ or ‘although’ needs a comma after it, so the above should be rewritten:

The conference is free to all members.  However, early registration is strongly advised.

Or, if you want it to remain as just one sentence, use ‘but’ instead:

The conference is free to all members, but early registration is strongly advised.

The only instance I can think of when you would not put a comma after ‘however’ is when you are using it at the beginning of a sentence to mean ‘in whatever way’:

However you choose to spend the Easter holiday, remember to check our website throughout the spring for our full range of spa hotel breaks.

Now, I have no problem with language changing.  If it didn’t, we would still be writing and talking in the manner of Charles II’s courtiers.

But there is generally a reason why robust grammatical standards should be maintained: sloppy grammar can lead to ambiguity.

It’s fair enough that, just as we don’t kow-tow unthinkingly to authority these days, so it is that we don’t have to work within an immutable set of rules.  For example, splitting infinitives is fine with me.  For reasons of emphasis or rhythm, the adverb must sometimes intrude between the ‘to’ and the verb, as (famously) in ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’.  In any case, there is no actual rule about not splitting infinitives.  According to Martin Cutts in the Oxford Guide to Plain English the issue cropped up in the 19th century when grammarians imposed Latin rules on English: in Latin, a present infinitive is always one unsplittable word like ‘amare’ (‘to love’).

But grammar should change as our needs or communications styles change – and not because people fail to learn it at school or just aren’t bothered.

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