5 Grammar “Rules” We Should Ignore (And 3 We Shouldn’t)
Be Kind to Your Commas
I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. I might not know all the technical terms that define every rule in the English language, but I know when something isn’t quite right — and it drives me crazy. With that being said, I do believe that there are a handful of so-called grammar rules that we must ignore if we are to write effectively for modern audiences. Which rules do you think we should permanently kick to the curb? This article discusses the ones that I would like to vote off the island, as well as some of the ones that I think go unobserved too often.
Let’s Say Goodbye to These Grammar Rules
Don’t End a Sentence with a Preposition
I think most people have already accepted this one. There’s less than nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition. It reflects the way modern people speak. Plus, sometimes you have to jump through hoops to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, and the entire message gets muddled in an unnatural-sounding word order.
In formal writing, such as research papers, it might be better to avoid prepositions at the end of a sentence — but not because it’s incorrect. Simply because the person evaluating the writing might be a beat or two behind the times.
Not Using “They” as a Singular Pronoun
For a long time, it was frowned upon to use “they” as a singular pronoun. Nowadays, though, it is necessary because some individuals assign that pronoun to themselves. But it’s also useful when you do not know an individual’s gender. It was used that way as far back as the 14th century (possibly even earlier). It seems there was just a hiccup in time where “they” was only used to refer to groups.
“Who” vs “Whom”
Personally, proper use of the word “whom” gives me all sorts of good feelings. However, I hesitate to say that word when I am speaking because one of two things will inevitably happen: Either people will think I’m a bit hoity-toity, or they will try to correct me on its usage. I’m not a fan of either one of those scenarios, so I generally say “who” whether or not it should technically be “whom.”
In writing, it’s a different story. I believe there is still a place for “whom” in this world, but that place is shrinking. In the vast majority of cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to stick with “who” all the time.
Don’t Start a Sentence with a Conjunction
Come on. Sure, it might not technically be a “complete sentence” when you start off with a conjunction, but it usually makes perfect sense. And it spares readers from having to read run-on sentences that would give J.R.R. Tolkien a run for his money. Modern readers don’t usually want long, flowing sentences that come wave after wave like the pounding of the sea.
Additionally, starting sentences with conjunctions is awesome because it’s a great way to lend emphasis to a thought. Think about it — it signals that a sentence fragment was so important that it grew into an actual sentence!
Never Split an Infinitive
This one has always been kind of silly. Who cares if you split an infinitive as long as your meaning is clear? In a few centuries, the great Captain Picard will boldly split infinitives every time an episode of his TV show opens (you know, to “boldly” go where no one has gone before).
Grammar Rules We Should Hold Onto
Proper Use of En Dashes and Em Dashes
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only soul in the world who knows the difference between these two punctuation marks. I’m a professional copywriter for a marketing company, and I often come across work from other writers on our team. Often, they’re using en dashes that should be em dashes and vice versa.
If you are a dash purist, please give me a mental high-five. I need to know that I’m not alone.
I’ve heard it said more than once that semicolons are on the way out. In fact, I once tried out a bit of ghostwriting for a company that specializes in sci-fi. They had a lot of ridiculous rules in their writer guidelines, but the prohibition against semicolons was among the most intolerable.
Semicolons are elegant, beautiful pieces of punctuation. A compound sentence with a semicolon in the middle has a delicate flavor and easy rhythm. Plus, they’re pretty much essential in long lists where one or more of the items has a comma in it.
I need a t-shirt in support of semicolons.
Avoiding Comma Splices
Remember when Wesley made the “sound of ultimate suffering” in the Pit of Despair? (In The Princess Bride, for the pour creatures who aren’t familiar with my reference.) That’s the sound I make in my heart when I see a comma splice.
A comma splice is when someone uses a comma to separate the clauses in a compound sentence. Just a comma, mind you. A lonely comma with no coordinating conjunction to back it up. It makes the sentence confusing and is utterly displeasing to the eyes.
Even some major companies have gone the way of the comma splice. There is a fast food restaurant near my house with a big sign in the window that reads, “We’re hiring, inquire within.” And whenever I log into a Zoom meeting, I’m met with the dreaded “Please wait, the meeting host will…” Would it have killed them to use a period instead of a comma? Anything but a comma splice. I’m begging and pleading here. Be kind to your commas.
Anyway, that’s the start of my grammar rant. There may be further rants in the days to come. What are your grammar pet peeves? Send me a line so we can commiserate in our grammar nerd misery.