When debating with someone about how to write eloquently, I argued that one needs to learn grammatical structures so that grammar comes easily when writing, but he said that one should focus on content. But I think that no matter how much content you generate, you still need to have a large grammatical repertoire, so that your final draft will sound good.

What do you think?

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    Which one would you rather read: well-written prose about the basic "slay the dragon" scenario with equally basic characters or more questionable prose with dynamic characters and dragon language learning for the masses? It's an opinion, of course, but you get the idea. It depends, what do you want? Mar 4, 2021 at 22:09
  • "But I think that no matter how much content you generate, you still need to have a large grammatical repertoire". And no matter how much grammar you know, you still need to have something to write about. Swings and roundabouts. Mar 5, 2021 at 7:47
  • No matter how eloquent the prose, without content worth writing, you are sunk. However, if your grammar is truly bad, or your writing style boring or repetative, only a brilliant editor can turn it into a best seller, and brilliant editors are swamped with a lot of submissions, so they are not likely to tackle something requiring extensive rewriting if there's something almost as good that just needs a bit of polish and can be ready for publication in a quarter of the time. So a good grammar "toolbox" is important too.
    – Gwyn
    Mar 8, 2021 at 9:50

5 Answers 5


The not-so-simple answer is both.

The key to answering this completely is to identify the audience to which the material is directed. If your target audience consists of hyper-vigilant grammar police, then a misplaced comma will, at best, give them something to complain about, and, at worst, cause them to abandon the material altogether. If, on the other hand, the audience hungers for well-defined characters and intricate plotting, and the only thing that you can point to in your material is excellent craft in grammar, spelling, and sentence structure, the audience will move on to something that meets their needs.

Without knowing the specifics of target audience, there is no way to answer the question. If you understand the target audience, then you should already know what the answer is.


Grammar is the toolbox. It's a good idea to have it down pat as soon as possible, because then you can use the tools to actually express the content that you want to create. It should be down so pat that the writer seldom, if ever, has to think of it, even when writing a complex, compound sentence with a gerund for one subject and an infinitive for the other.

The important part here is not to know what the rules are, but to be able to reach for a sentence structure that the content needs, and this requires practice. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner has some useful exercises about this; there are no doubt others.


While grammatical marks certainly indicate eloquence on the part of the writer (if they are used properly), it is debatable whether a character is eloquent from grammar alone.

It is best to start with the definition of the word which you and your colleague are discussing:

Eloquence comes from the Latin preposition ex (out of) + the Latin deponent verb loquor (to speak) = to speak out. And with this etymological background we come to understand that eloquence is certainly something that has to do with speaking rather than grammar; however, eloquence taking shape as language used in a way that comes out of the speaker, rather eloquence is tAking shape as language brought out by the speaker’s volition, meaning the speaker uses his words with precision and concision. I state such a redundancy to stipulate that there is no doubt about eloquence when it appears because it is speech used so precise, but in order for readers and listeners to understand that language must be brought out in accordance with established rules of logic and grammar, for indeed these are the only ways in which we can even understand the speakers.

To sum up: eloquence is speech used precisely and the grammatical component of eloquence is necessary, as it is the manner in which we as reader or listeners can understand at all what was said or being said.


Grammar should follow content

The content of your story should be your first priority. Go into your story without a care for grammar. Write all you possibly can and keep revising your work by cutting out parts and improving plot.

Once you've gotten a good grip on the content, and it 100% works for your story, you can start editing.

Then you can work on your grammar.

Get a beta reader, get a software to detect misspellings, do whatever works for you.

It won't be perfect, but that's okay.

Now, your first draft is ready.

I prioritized content over grammar at first because in the drafting stage, it is actually unhelpful to stress out about grammar before you even finish. It is important to take it easy and get all your writing down before you go into editing mode.



Let me ask you; would you want to read a book that has an epic idea and a super cool storyline, but looks like it was written by a five year old? The answer to that question was probably no. So I'll ask another one; would you want to read a book with incredible grammar and word play that's extravagant, but the storyline makes absolutely 0 sense and half the time you don't even know what's happening? The answer to that question was also no.

Now obviously I'm exaggerating a little bit, not perfecting grammar doesn't make your writing skills equivalent to a 5 year old, and not having a perfect plot doesn't make your story nonsensical, but the idea is neither one of these things can really and truly exist in a successful way without the other. Both of them are important, and neither one more so than the other. It's as simple as that.

I saw a different answer talk about how you'd have to know your target audience to know how to write the book, but that isn't necessarily true. Even if you are a grammar hungry dinosaur looking for a perfectly written book (grammatically), but even if you are, you're not going to enjoy that book if it quite literally makes no sense. A bunch of perfect grammar with no actual meaning to it is ridiculous. And the same goes the other way around. If you're a plot thirsty dude with a need for good characters and a nice storyline, if you can't even use punctuation correctly half the time, the story, no matter how well planned it is, won't make sense anyways, and their thirst for plot won't be quenched.

So I say the answer is both. One can't live without the other, so don't try to make it that way.

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