Many writers feel they no longer need to be aware of the rules of English syntax, much less follow them. They assume that only a fussy schoolmarm would care whether the number of your subject agrees with that of your verb. (What’s a subject’s number, anyway?) As a result, authors, bloggers, and even speechmakers feel exhilarated to cast off the straitjacket of grammar school…grammar!

Having been a professional editor for the past 45 years, I may be forgiven for insisting that every writer needs a capable editor. Our word usage does affect what others think we mean. While it’s thrilling to break free Houdini-like from the schoolmarm’s straitjacket, remember that a straitjacket may keep you from doing crazy things.

Take word order for example.

Today’s “CBS Morning News” included the report of a tragic home invasion in Indianapolis, in which the announcer identified the victim as “a pregnant pastor’s wife.” On a rival network’s broadcast, the victim was said to be “a pastor’s pregnant wife.”

Did word order matter in that case? I typed the two sentences into Microsoft Word and applied its grammar checker, which flagged neither of them; both sentences were deemed equally correct. However, I believe that a human being detects a real difference in meaning between those two sentences, due to the word order.

This is one good reason why every writer needs a capable editor–or, as Yoda would say, “An editor you need, I think.”