Copy Editor’s Corner | Grammar vs. Style

Copy Editor’s Corner | Grammar vs. Style

What’s the difference between grammar and style? It’s similar to the difference between a dictate and a suggestion — when a copy editor marks a change because it’s grammatically incorrect, you really should make the change. Style is more subjective, but for the best copy possible, adhering to consistent style is important.

People often treat copy editors as human dictionaries or style books and approach them with questions like “Which is right, e-mail or email?” The answer is that neither is wrong because this is a matter of style, not grammar. However, most publications follow one style guide (and magazines and newspapers usually follow the Associated Press Stylebook, or AP style), and that resource likely has a preference.

In this case, AP style says that email is “right” — but that writers should add the hyphen to all other “e” words: e-book, e-commerce, e-newsletter.  Since this isn’t a grammatical issue, however, you’d be well within your rights to use either, as long as you don’t switch back and forth throughout a document. Of course, maintaining that all-important consistency is ultimately up to copy editors.

While grammar is more rigid than style, even its rules can be bent now and then — but proceed with caution. If a slogan or tagline is too far off the grammar rails, your audience is likely to be too distracted or perhaps even annoyed.

Alison Dotson