English is a complex but infinitely varied language. It is free from many of the constraints seen in other languages in that it does not always rigidly adhere to strict rules and forms. In fact, some of our greatest writers often audaciously break the rules that do exist with deliberate abandon.

Our language also has several different traditions. American English has a number of spelling and punctuation variations from British English and other traditions within the English-speaking world (e.g. color/colour). Apart from the different spellings and idiom, American publishers will, for instance, always use the em-dash (—) when marking a phrase break in a sentence, while Australian and British publishers regularly use the en-dash (–) :

Australian English is generally closer to British than American, but not always. The British see collective nouns as plural, while US and Australian publishers use them in the singular:

This is not a debate about right or wrong; it is simply a difference in tradition and practice. And there’s another example! In British/Australian usage, practice is a noun: ‘She ran a successful medical practice.’ – but practise is a verb: ‘We should practise what we preach.’
    In the US, practice is the same for both. However, where British English at least remains consistent by using licence as a noun and license as a verb, in the US license is both the verb and noun forms. Confusing, hey?

For our beloved English language, usage, style, tradition and taste all affect the way in which we write – and editors are attuned to this process. While the New York Times may observe strict rules regarding certain usages, the Australian Government applies its own; and universities often have widely different approaches to grammatical conventions. Even some corporations have their own style manuals.

So, are there rules that one should obey? Well, yes! There are many conventions commonly used throughout the English-speaking world, and it is well to understand them before attempting to break them. English is a little like jazz. First, good players must strictly learn all the conventional rules: then they may break them at will. But it cannot be done in reverse!

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