Breaking Bad Grammar Rules

Breaking Bad Grammar Rules

A lot of grammar rules have gone out the window. Not because we’re lazy writers, but because a lot of the rules previous generations grew up with were really preferences of people who happened to write grammar textbooks and were overly-fond of Latin. Instead of “Is this grammatically correct?” ask yourself “Can the reader clearly understand this?”

1. Ending sentences with prepositions.

“Who did you talk to?” is just as grammatical as “To whom did you talk?” and much less pretentious. Again, thank the Latin-obsessed grammarians of the 18th century for making this one up.

2. Split infinitives.

Go ahead and follow Captain Kirk’s lead “to boldly go” and split infinitives! The original rule that would have him “to go boldly where no man has gone before” was made up by uptight 18th-century grammarians who wanted English to follow Latin’s grammatical rules. If splitting an infinitive makes the sentence clearer, you should do it

3. Singular they.

If you want to argue that “he” is gender neutral, ask yourself, “Is it your brother or your sister who is selling his house?” The singular they is nothing new—Shakespeare used it, as does the King James Bible.

4. Contractions.

They’re not just for speaking anymore! Unless you’re writing a technical manual or a legal document, write conversationally.

5. Don’t use the same word twice.

This rule comes from a good place. It’s meant to avoid copy like “The CEO talked at length about next year’s goals. After talking about managerial changes, he talked with attendees about their concerns.” But following it too closely leads to florid prose like “The CEO talked at length about next year’s goals. After elaborating on managerial changes, he conversed with attendees about their concerns.” Avoid repetition, but don’t go to ridiculous lengths to do so.

For more, I highly recommend Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.  It’s a great handbook for writing clear, engaging prose, and the last chapter is a great resource for answering the question “Is this grammatically correct?”

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