Three Grammar Rules You Can (And Should) Break

English Grammar

Grammar rules exist so that we don’t sound like complete idiots when we write. Most of them have a good reason for being around; after all, clarity in communication is a good thing. A virtue, even.

However, that’s not to say that all grammar rules are written in stone. In fact, some of them seem to be the work of rabid grammarians, who gleefully enforce confusing syntax and awkward construction in the name of “proper English.”

To heck with that, I say. Here are three grammar rules that were made to be broken.

1. Ending a sentence with a preposition

I have no idea where this rule came from. What I do know is that many people, in an effort to keep from ticking off the Grammar Police, start twisting their sentences around so as not to end them with prepositions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the new syntax is terribly awkward and painful to read. Take the first sentence of this section, for example. “From where this rule came” sounds like something Yoda would say, not me. A big part of blogging is showing your personality through words. How can you do that when you’re twisting your phrases to suit some archaic rule?

In the interest of clarity and readability, it’s quite all right to end a sentence with a preposition.

2. Beginning a sentence with “and” or “but”

Somebody, somewhere, once decided that you shouldn’t begin sentences with conjunctions. Maybe it was an overzealous teacher who thought her students were doing it too much. My guess is that it was frustrated mothers who got sick and tired of hearing their children start every single sentence with “But Mo-om!”

The rule even got screen time in the movie Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery and Rob Brown have an entire conversation about it (and deliberately start their sentences with the offending words in order to make their points).

Regardless of how it began, you don’t have to stick with it. It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to grab attention and emphasize a point. But, as in all things, take it in moderation.

3. Splitting infinitives

How often have you heard that you’re not allowed to let another word come between “to” and its verb? Some people hold that construction with the same reverence as is typically given to marriage: that which the writer hath wrought together, let no man tear asunder.

Except that it’s really not that big of a deal. Come on: “to go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go.” If it sounds better to split the infinitive, then take an axe to it!

Don’t cling to the ancient rules just because your high school English teacher told you to. Be a rebel and break free of these nonsensical shackles!

About the Author: Michelle Pierce is the editor-in-chief (and word ninja) for Aqua Vita Creative, and she is very picky about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. She would like to remind the entire Internet that there is no “a” in “definitely.”

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. “Grammar Rules You –can/should– break”

    Well, what can be a better example than icanhascheezeburger.com

    But I really liked the second point, especially the section about frustrated mothers. :D

  2. I’m a blatant dangler of prepositions, and agree with you that it’s nothing to make a big deal about. But I have a problem with your conjunction advice, because that rule can be broken badly by writers that don’t have as much experience as you do. And don’t understand how the writing can become stilted. And choppy. But you know what I mean.

  3. That’s it…I am demanding my editor subscribe to this blog!

  4. I have some hard news for you: these grammar rules are made up.

    All grammar rules are.

    These particular rules (especially #1 and #3) came from a prescriptive grammarian trying to make English conform to Latin rules. Infinitives in Latin are one word, and thus impossible to split.

    Not ending a sentence a preposition as a rule is “the kind of errant pedantry up with which I will not put,” to use the alleged Winston Churchill response to being corrected on that point.

    The reason we’re taught not to start a sentence with a conjunction is because most of the time, we’d do it badly. But don’t let that stop you. And don’t take my word for it. But maybe you should. But don’t you find writing like this a little overdramatic? Done once or twice, it can be effective. More than that, and it’s silly.

    • Jordan, I’m not sure what your point is when you say all grammar rules are made up. So are all the words in every language ever in existence and every single meaning attached to them. So it is, too, with all the laws of civilization, how we identify and label what occurs in nature, keep track of time, utilize mathematics, the names we call each other, the places we live and the maps we use to locate them and our place in the universe. Practically our entire human experience, how we relate to it, identify it and communicate our perspective on it is made up. It’s all made up!

      Do you suggest total abandonment of it all? Where shall the embarkation point for a return to total chaos be marked as you recreate things?

  5. Terence, LOL. I think you missed her point about moderation. :)

  6. Phew – I always enjoyed throwing in an ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the beginning of some sentences in my posts. Glad it isn’t shunned :)

  7. This is great! Now if someone calls me on my grammar, I can point them here! ;)

    Thanks,
    Nate

  8. I’ve only recently started allowing myself to use and or but at the beginning of a sentence. For the longest time I was unwilling, but this restriction was a boon to the creativity of my copy. I wouldn’t twist my language in any unnatural ways, but I would come up with entirely new ways to say things. Now that I’m confident I can do this 100% of the time, I have greatly relaxed with the rule.

  9. When will people just learn to write things how they hear them and want them to be read? Don’t tell your writing voice to shut it so you can follow rules that becoming very quickly outdated. And I love starting sentences with a conjunction! That’s how I hear them and that’s how I write them.

  10. Hooray, I can finally stop beginning my sentences with “Yeah, but” or “Yeah, and” to keep in the letter of the law! ;-)

  11. I agree that some grammar rules can and need to be broken…occasionally. Playing with grammar rules can result in great, stylistic writing when done correctly. Often the problem becomes that writers (bloggers) don’t understand the rules they are breaking, which results in poor copy and can make a writer sound unintelligent (even if they aren’t).

    • Good point, AD. In order to break the rules effectively, one must first know the rules.

      There is a vast difference between lack of intelligence and lack of knowledge. An hour-old baby can have the intelligence of Einstein, but it knows nothing.

  12. I use “and” and “but” at the beginning of sentences with no guilt whatsoever. If the tone is conversational then I let it happen. But, (see) I will edit some of them out because too many reduces the effect. When used infrequently, they have a way of bringing out the conversation and making the voice less formal.

  13. hahahaha rules were made to be broken

  14. I agree with your position here. We can’t be effective communicators if we’re also slaves to so-called rules of grammar and usage. But I do believe that we must first know these rules; then we can treat them as guidelines.

  15. This is what humans do best. Justify. Look, a one word sentence, just broke another rule. All my life I’ve broken rules, because a lot or rules to me get in the way of what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As a kid, a loved calling teachers on the carpet when it came to speaking, and writing or acting out a creative thought. I call this my Mark Twain Argument. Hopefully someone reading this post sees what I call this feenahm and is now nodding their head. You have to choose when to fight the battles, but also know why and how to fight it, and I ‘spose with whom. A few random thoughts on a topic I’ve always loved, breaking the rules. Thanks.

  16. Obviously, I didn’t love prooove reading either. a love, no dumb fool, I love… U were talking about U. whatever

  17. Also goes to the method of the teacher that put these heavy weights on your shoulders. I bet I going to see the word “guilt” a lot, hence, rational, justify, etc. to follow.

  18. Bill Brohaugh once said that the only real rule in writing is, “Never start a sentence with a comma.”

    But even that, he said, is flexible.

  19. I had to laugh out loud reading this because I do concur! Reading the witty comments above was fun too.
    I taught English Language and Literature at the university level for many years and went from being a Grammar Cop to a Grammar Creative… If it sounds good and it makes sense, heck, use it!
    You must agree though that some grammar errors are unforgivable — a few of my pet peeves?
    “should’of/could’of/womans/s/he at … ” How did the contraction for “should have” become “should’of”? womans for women? Ah, forgeddaboutit! ;-)

  20. Actually – ending a sentence with a preposition dates back to the English Language’s Germanic roots, where some verbs have a prefix-verb structure (“to walk out” or “to come in”) that in a sentence, knocks the prefix to the very bitter end. When they made it to English, they became separated into multiple words, and those “outs” and “ins” look like prepositions… but in reality they were originally part of the verb. There’s a big difference in “walking” and “walking out”, by meaning (and there are other better examples of this that I’m failing to remember right now).

    Long story short, this is why rearranging the sentence to stick the preposition at the front is often awkward sounding.

  21. When I got this post in my e-mail, I opened it immediately to see which rules were in question. And I was happy to quickly discover the same ones I most disagree with!

    They’re also the same three that non-writers are constantly “correcting” me on when reviewing my work. Drives me crazy.

  22. Like Jordan said – you’re not really being a rebel by breaking these ‘rules’. The English language is so powerful precisely because it evolves and adapts – grammar with it. These 3 ‘rules’ were only enforced for a short period of time by language snobs and were wrong from the very start. By not following them you’re not shunning grammar, just bad grammar. Oh, and as the Churchill quote shows – 50 years ago this might’ve been a controversial subject!

  23. You need to remember that some of your readers grew up in “archaic” times and it can be more natural for us to use “proper” grammar. I’ve become comfortable breaking your second and third rule, but still am rarely comfortable breaking rule one.

  24. It all comes down to personal tone. Talks the walk, in writing I think is talk the word. I heard in one of Gary Halbert’s seminar, he once say that we should not care about the grammar, we should write like as though we are talking to a friend.
    And I truly accept what you say, It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.”
    Isn’t that what we always use while talking?

  25. Wow! So many comments already! Sorry I’m late to the party.

    @eliz – Some grammar errors are definitely unforgivable. They’re the ones that make you sound dumb and hurt your credibility. The pet peeves you mentioned are just a few of them.

    @Rob – Haha, those are great posts. Thank you!

    @Charles, AD – I completely agree. You have to know what the rules are before you can know when it’s acceptable to break them.

    @Davina – Exactly. If you’re going to break the rules, break them in moderation. (I’m a firm believer in the golden mean.)

    @Writer Dad – That’s really cool. It’s amazing how certain restrictions can force creativity to blossom.

    @Ryan – I usually agree with you. The easiest way to figure out what to write is by what “sounds” right to your ears. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who would think “I had went” is correct verb usage. So there are a few rules that need to be memorized. ;-)

    @Jordan – Haha! I love your last paragraph. That’s very true. Again, all things in moderation, and moderation in all things.

    @Brian – Good to see you in here, and thank you so much!

  26. Great entry!

    I wish someone would write a definitive entry about the serial comma. I am quite sick of editing it out of sentences that don’t need it. Use the serial for a list, if your publication/organization asks you to, but don’t use it between two disparate adjectives that do not share a meaning. Sorry – no offense to any of the commenters who abused it above. This is a common comma corruption.

  27. “but” = “however”

    In that context it’s perfectly OK, even good.

    Australians often use “but” for “though” at the end of a sentence. That’s wrong but!

  28. These are definitely good rules to break. Advertising copywriters have been breaking ‘em for years, because they know what sounds better to real people. A well-placed sentence fragment can work wonders for readability too.

  29. My mother is protesting from way above. One of her favorites though, was when people said the “reason is because” rather than “the reason is that” … Oh well. Change is inevitable.

  30. @Nancy – Hey, it’s all about what works for your style.

    @Elizabeth – :-) They drive me crazy, too.

    @mattotoole – I did not know that. Interesting! Just goes to show the great differences between the different English-speaking countries. :-)

    @Katie – “Common comma corruption” is the best alliteration I have seen all day. What is it with apostrophes and commas that give so many people so much trouble?

    @LoraineFick – I am a fan of the well-placed sentence fragment. (Probably too much of a fan…)

    @Wizely – That’s true, but enough people learned those rules as the “right” way to do things that we’re still hearing about them now. Just read some of the comments here.

  31. “From where this rule came”

    That would be “whence”!
    :-)

  32. All three of these rules have no room for effective writing.

    The only thing they prove to do is put shackles on the writer, ensuring that they have fewer ways to express themselves.

    I’d actually be surprised if there were any serious writers out there who still believed in them.

  33. I’ve got a punctuation gripe to add to the pile: quotation marks.

    The rule is that ending punctuation goes inside the closing mark. So: You should always follow the “rule.” When the quoted word is not a quote, but used to indicate that the term is questioned, it is not really a sentence fragment. So I prefer: You should usually follow the “rule”.

    And sometimes the sentence is not the same type as the enclosed quote. For instance: Who decided, “This is the rule?” The quoted sentence is not a question. It makes more sense to say: Do you agree with the statement, “This makes more sense”?

  34. Seriously though, there is always a way to phrase the sentence that neither breaks up a prepositional phrase nor is really awkward. To take your first sentence again as the example, you might say, “I don’t know who came up with these rules.”

    @Drew: Where did you learn these rules? They are not quite the same as any I have heard, either American or British.

  35. I’ll agree with points #1 and #3. But, not point #2. And, the key argument for beginning a sentence with and or but is mostly for, as you stated, “It’s a great way to grab attention and emphasize a point.”

    It’s great for copywriting for ads and other quick, short marketing copy. And, as you said, it should be used in moderation, like most things.

    Take care,
    -Mike

  36. Love this post. I’m a copy editor and I hate it when writers create awkward copy because they’re afraid of ending a sentence with a preposition. The rule exists to avoid sentence structure like, “Can you tell me where the computer is at?” But there’s nothing wrong with “Where did you come from?” (“From where did you come” is awkward and overly formal and just plain terrible.)

  37. One of the rules that has always made me cringe when it was broken is when extra qualifiers are shoved between the verb and subject.

    For instance, “I push around pixels” and “I push pixels around”. Both sound perfectly fine. But then you get into stuff like “I push around pixels that range from black to white and all in between” and “I push pixels that range from black to white and all in between around”.

    I think in the first two examples, both are valid. But the last example is pretty clunky, yet I see it occasionally.

  38. @sep332 – I do love “from whence it came.” It’s so very Gandalfian. I feel like I need a staff and a wizard hat every time I say it.

    @Drew – If I remember correctly, the AP Stylebook has some rules pertaining to the proper usage of quotation marks. (Not that I can remember them off the top of my head…)

    @Anna – The roots and evolution of language are fascinating, don’t you think?

  39. Great tips! I too was strangled with the “but and and” dilemma. And I soon got over it. But I have to be careful to balance the usage and never sacrifice breaking the rules for clarity.

  40. I have no problem breaking rules 2 & 3, but I am bedeviled by guilt if I break rule 1 and end a sentence with a preposition. For some reason, that rule more than any other has stuck with me. Do I do it? Yes. Do I have to work at doing it? Most definitely.

    Thanks for setting me free. I’m glad to know that I won’t be judged too harshly if I go with what sounds right rather than what is grammatically correct.

  41. Thanks for this post, Michelle! I love my writing coach to death, but she is always yelling at me for starting my sentences with “and” or “but.” I keep trying to explain to her that this is OK to do, but she still says I can’t do it (I do it anyhow).

    I’m going to send a link to this post to her… :-)

  42. This is a valid sentence:

    What did you bring that book that I don’t like to be read to out of up for?

  43. @Angela gives a great example for the preposition. From hers it’s clear that the rule should be: If a sentence ends in a preposition, and that preposition can be deleted without changing the meaning, it should be deleted.

    @Michelle, the AP style for quotation marks is: “Always put the period and comma inside quotation marks. Put other punctuation marks inside when they are part of the quoted material.” So this matches my style for question marks, but not periods or commas.

    @sep332 This comes from years of catholic school. Confirmed by my mother, who can’t fail to point out when I break the rules.

  44. I am sorry, but that is something up with I shall not put!

    :)

    Couldn’t resist, Barbara

  45. I love this post! Thank you for granting my freedom! ;)

  46. @Spen There is apparently a wide gulf between “valid” and “good”.

    (PS: See right there? I used my personal rule for quotation marks.)

  47. Yay! I’ve been breaking these rules (in moderation). Now I don’t have to wear the blue facepaint – “They may take my my bad grammar but they’ll never take my freedom!!”

  48. I need to turn off the “email” me when someone else comments feature. My mail box is filling up so fast. wow.

  49. @Barbara – HAHA! I love it.

    @Spen – That one makes my head hurt…

    @jennifer – Haha, hopefully your writing coach won’t be sending me any angry emails…

    @Sami – It’s a little-known fact that the Scots were fighting for grammar rights as well.

    @Lisa – You’re welcome!

    @Drew – Ah, thank you!

    @Michelle – Join us, and break free of the shackles!

  50. I’d just like to point out that these “rules” aren’t really rules anymore … they were ditched a couple decades ago. Especially the “and” and “but” rule — it’s now accepted even in grammar books.

  51. Technically, the example you used for the first rule is still correct. You are allowed to end a sentence with a preposition if it is a phrasal verb (e.g. “going to”, “come from”, etc.).

    • Andrew:

      What happens when the phrasal verb is composed of a verb + an adverb particle ? Can we still end a sentence as you suggested ?

    • Andrew:

      What happens when the phrasal verb is composed of a verb + an adverb particle ? Can we still end a sentence as you suggested ?

      Can we sa y?

      To the recipients, the president gave the prizes away.

  52. What a relief! It’s been difficult avoiding prepositions at the end of sentences.

    I’m thrilled to be able to use “And” and “But” to begin sentences.

    Thanks. The shackles are off!

  53. Entertaining read Michelle — more recommended ‘rule breaking’ please!

    Bend ‘dem rules, especially when it adds personality and entertainment. 100% agreed.

    Harmless rule breaking = instant identification with the audience. On both sides. :)

  54. What a fun article, Michelle! Because I break every rule, too, that you’ve mentioned!! :-)

    ~Candy

  55. Rule number 1 still has its adherents, but the tide is turning against it. In my opinion it’s best to avoid ending sentences with prepositions if you can do so without sounding forced or unnatural. It’s a far greater sin, however, to contort sentences into Gordian knots just to satisfy this arguably-dubious requirement. Grammar Girl has a good take on this one. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ending-prepositions.aspx

    The second rule is all over bar the snorting. For me, stops (periods, commas, colons, and semicolons) are about cadence. I don’t think it matters if you start a sentence with “and” or “but” so long as you want your words read with the cadence of the preceding period.

    And as for rule 3, for those of us who bow to the authority of the OED (I nearly always do) split infinitives are now “officially” okay. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/150458.stm

  56. That would be “Yoda would say, not I.”

  57. Yes, yes and yes.

    Broken stick make sharp point.

    Onya, Michelle! :)

  58. Really enjoyed this post. Especially the starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’. I think sometimes it is needed, and agree that as long as it isn’t over used, it can give a relevant contrast to a point.
    If things read well and it all adds to the content, the grammar is correct and it isn’t just ramble, I think all you observations are justified.

  59. I am usually not a rule breaker, but when it comes to English, both spoken and written, I tend to not follow the rules all together. This certainly leads to some awkward moment but I think for the most part it is more important to show my personality. Lets face it when we write on a blog or in a book we are really selling our personalities. Do the people like us? If they don’t they won’t read. If they do they will continue to read even with broken rules.

  60. I like Orwell’s approach to writing rules in his ‘Politics and the English Language’. He gives 5 rules and then follows-up with his 6th and greatest:
    Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous!
    This, I think, is the ‘Zeroth Law’ of writing well and is Copywriting 101.

  61. Richard Chase :

    My biggest gripe is when people tell me that a word that I’ve used is “not a real word.”

    There are rules for making up words. You start with a root word and add a prefix and/or a suffix. Perhaps you’re the first person ever to use the combination, but does that really invalidate the word you’ve used?

    Shakespear has been credited with adding over one thousand words to the English language. Should we now go through his works, replacing all his new words with pre-existing words of similar meaning?

    What is a language if it cannot adapt? As the need to communicate changes, so the language should change to suit the requirements.

  62. Brian Killian :

    I don’t remember any grammar rules from school. I write by ear..er..sight, if it looks good and sounds good, I leave it. 99% of the time this keeps me within the rules.

  63. i try and write how i talk. and that means breaking a lot of the rules :) grammar is important, but there’s a difference between writing a term paper and talking to your customers. i’m quite sure they prefer the latter.

  64. Thanks for the validation! I need to forward this to some “by the textbook” clients who love to get out the red pen on stuff like this.

  65. With points 2 & 3, I must agree; yet concurrence on 1, you shall have none (from me).
    “From where this rule came” may sound more awkward than “Where this rule came from”, but that’s when vocabulary and rhetorical savvy come into play. You could have said, “I have no idea where this rule originated.”

  66. @Wizely – I do love that quote from Orwell. Just about every writing rule has a time and a place for being broken. The key is knowing when and where. :-)

    @needmoney – If the OED says it, then it is grammar law!

    @Richard – That is true, but sometimes there is already a word for the one you’ve made up, just with a different prefix/suffix. I’ve had that happen before when I couldn’t remember the adjective or noun form of the word. (Dictionary.com is my best friend for those moments.)

  67. Thanks, I’m a non-native English writer. This posting is not only very informative, but also highly entertaining. And now I’m gonna begin my last sentence with and and still feel confident :-)

  68. To me, any time someone throws in a Star Trek reference to prove their point, they’re spot on! Agreed to all of these, though, I hate to admit, some of the terminology used I either forgot or it’s newer than I am. lol

  69. Perception is reality. But at least I can defend myself with your words of wisdom.

  70. These rules are also eloquently covered in John Trimble’s Writing with Style, a must read for would-be writers.

  71. Couldn’t agree more. I do my best to use the most proper grammar, but I decided at some point that I should try and split the difference between following all the rules and just writing for people.

    Great post!

  72. *chapeau*
    = humble thanks.
    Yeah, the forbidden ‘end sentence with a preposition’ is a pain in the neck & exactly! twists the ‘could’ve been clearer’ meaning.
    Ok, what’s wrong with could’ve – should’ve – must’ve? except that the dictionary doesn’t recognize it..

    The problem in all this though, is that do what you want on your blog, but if you’re a news paper or magazine editor, those kind of stuff that still keep its formality, you’re asked to write academic English.

    Maybe soon enough, as we people through the internet, who made the world & business revolve around us when I mention Twitter, YouTube, etc, those news papers & magazines are going to loosen up.

  73. So refreshing to hear this coming from someone else. I continually have to re-rearrange my coworkers sentences to put the preposition back at the end of the sentence, where it so obviously wants to be.

  74. I agree completely with all three of these, as well as the idea of continuing to question the rules.

    My pet peeve “rule” is the same as Drew’s: that the ending punctuation mark always goes inside the quotation marks.

    It makes perfect sense when it’s a quote of a complete sentence:

    She said, “Let’s go to the store.”

    It doesn’t make sense at all when it’s just a brief phrase within the flow of the sentence, e.g.:

    She called the dinner “mighty fine.”

    To me, even though that’s what I grew up on, that still just looks ridiculous, compared to:

    She called the dinner “mighty fine”.

    This rule needs to be broken.

  75. The true genius of this article comes in point #1.

    1. Ending a sentence with a preposition
    I have no idea where this rule came from.

    ;)

  76. Punctuation mark terminating inside/outside of quotes is a British/American thing. Inside for Americans, outside for the Brits (and those who slavishly follow their lead.)

  77. Thank you!

  78. I agree in full with items one and two.

    I also agree with item three in general. But keep in mind there are times when splitting the infinitive can make sentences more, rather than less, confusing.

  79. Here here!

    It’s about time someone said this.

  80. Just happened upon the article, loved it and agree with all points made–except “that big of a deal”, which truly hurts my ears and ranks up there with “the both of us”. I’ll keep tuning in. Thanks.

  81. “But soft; what light through yonder window breaks.”

    It is the light glancing off Captain Picard’s head. And he has no hair because he thought he was supposed to “baldly go” where no one has gone before.

  82. Does this mean that there are grammar rules we shouldn’t break?

    Whoopsy…

  83. Cheers to this article!

    In my elementary years, one of my English Teachers will always say to not start a sentence with a conjunction.

    Until now, I am still breaking that rule. Anyway, my sentence is still clear to begin with, just like this:

    “And I can’t find the words to say to let you know how I feel for you. But don’t get me wrong, I am just speechless to begin with.”

    see?

    I guess some rules are indeed made to be broke :)

  84. Thank you for this. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been driven to distraction trying to get that preposition off the end of a sentence. I never understood why it was a big deal in the first place. I guess I was sick the day we covered it in 9th grade English.

  85. I write daily for my job and nightly for my novel. In both cases the language seems stilted and lacking expressive power when sticking to the letter of grammatical law. So I rarely bother.

    And like the Prefab Sprout song says ‘Technique – I loathe the stilted way you make me speak’.

  86. I agree that most of the grammar rules can be broken, if they’re broken knowingly and for purpose. However, it behooves writers to learn the rules, anyway, so they’ll know when they’re breaking them and, I hope, why.

    As for splitting infinitives, I say it depends. Do it if doing so makes the sentence sound and/or flow better. Doing it damn near every time (something too many writers do) represents lazy writing. All too often, there is no good reason to split that infinitive…other than that the writer just doesn’t know any better, perhaps. And often, the word used to split the infinitive would be better left out entirely.

  87. I couldn’t agree more. I’m happy to see someone write an article about this subject, particularly rule #1. In most cases, trying to stuff the preposition into the middle of the sentence is just too awkward.

  88. I must confess I have a reputation as a grammar pedant, probably in part due to being a Brit in Canada. Many of these habits were reinforced by an old-school Head of Geology when I was writing scientific papers for publication 10 years ago. I am trying to get over it. This post helps, as did Stephen Fry’s entertaining ‘Language’ podcast http://www.stephenfry.com/media/audio/109/series-2-episode-3–language/

  89. Michelle,

    You get it. As a one-time English teacher (and current substitute, so I’m still teaching it fairly often) and a classically trained writer, I always have only one rule of grammar: be as clear as possible.

    Now, depending upon your message, being “clear” may require you to sometimes be obtuse. It’s fine to be unclear for a specific effect. But if you find yourself being unclear to match a grammatical rule, then you’re missing the point.

    Not ending in a preposition, etc. is meant to make clear what noun that preposition refers to. If it’s already clear, don’t worry too much about it, but do consider if the sentence could be better with a change to word order.

  90. I never follow those rules anyways, so I’m good! LOL

  91. I’m laughing right now. I have a degree in English, and I’m an English teacher. I teach these rules, but I also often break them. “Real writers,” I say, “can break the rules. You don’t have a good enough grasp on the language and the rules yet to start breaking them.” Thanks!

  92. I completely agree with all three! I have my Bachelors degree in English and I love reading/writing, but I’m quite the “rule breaker” when it comes to grammar.

    I appreciate the fact that you are spelling out which grammar rules are most relevant. AND I thank you for it. Ha! :)

  93. someone probably already said this but I’m not about to read 92 comments at 1 in the morning. ok so, a preposition by definition cannot end a sentence, it’s a pre-position, it has to be before something. that having been said, I am all for finding a new name for that part of speech

  94. I found this post while being frustrated with an overediting boss. I am supposed to be the editor of the organization newsletter, but am not allowed any design freedoms. I send out the org emails too, but am required to send out every email with “Dear ____,” with tons of long sentences. As if it was a formal letter instead of an email!

    I feel so nitpicked that i am finding myself looking for comma and grammar rules online to try and avoid the onslaught. Sadly they do not seam to be helping. I am so tweaked I am worried about the grammar and punctuation in this posting too!

    And believe it or not my boss is under 30, so it isn’t an old school thing…

  95. Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves
    If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

  96. I’m in love with this post. In school, students are taught to be grammar police in order to pass their classes. The problem with this is it only changes how they write, but it doesn’t change how they talk. Doing verbal yoga can really distort the writer’s voice which defeats the point of writing.

    Great stuff!

  97. As a proofreader and editor by trade I have to say “thank you” for this site and for your great information. And, as an avid reader ( who DOES occasionally start a sentence with and, lol ) I know that even the occasional grammar UHOH can really hurt a business’s perceived credibility and professionalism.

    keep up the good work, I appreciate you!

    Jan Tallent

  98. Excelent!

    This is a great post to help clarify our grammatical rules when writing…

    To tell you the truth I prefer to write in Spanish and indeed the same rules applies to it.

    Thanks a lot Michelle Pierce…you are great copy writer.

  99. I went to college and have NO CLUE what these are about LOL :) I just write if someone doesn’t like it oh well.
    If someone likes to go around pointing out typos and grammatical errors on sites they are a LOSER :) LOL
    nice post thanks

  100. I’d add a fourth to that list. Don’t use “whom”!

    Most people can’t use it correctly. I’ve even seen it used as the subject of a sentence. Add this to the fact that – even when it is used correctly – it still tends to sound wrong, and it’s a minefield. If it’s an indirect object preceded immediately by a preposition, then you can just about get away with it. But otherwise steer clear!

    In short: using “who” instead of “whom” will usually sound okay even when it’s wrong. Conversely, using “whom” will usually sound wrong, even when it’s right!

  101. It all comes down to personal tone. Talks the walk, in writing I think is talk the word. I heard in one of Gary Halbert’s seminar, he once say that we should not care about the grammar, we should write like as though we are talking to a friend.
    And I truly accept what you say, It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.”
    Isn’t that what we always use while talking?

  102. My mom was relentless about correcting grammar and pronunciation but didn’t know there’s only one r in the body part known as the prostate. My sibs and I never corrected her because she was so up tight about talking about such a private part. It’s a wonder she ever spoke of it! She, too, is probably protesting from above about all this breaking of rules. I give her credit for teaching her children to speak correctly. There are many smart people who sound stupid because their grammar is bad.

    A friendly reminder: we all make mistakes. I’m referring to the first sentence in the second paragraph under “Splitting Infinitives”. “Except it’s not that big OF a deal.” “Of” doesn’t belong there. ☺

    Also, Drew’s “personal rule” about punctuation marks and quote marks was taught to me in eighth grade English class.

  103. I’m back. Mea culpa, I didn’t read all the comments before adding mine about “it’s not that big OF a deal”. That’s one of my many pet peeves. Another is the excessive and usually unnecessary use of “got”, as in “you’ve got mail”. Essentially it’s “you have got mail” but “you have mail” is sufficient. This has been going on for decades and won’t change. Yes, I’m old school. I was in that eighth grade English class in 1962. I hope those of you who are younger and more liberal about all of this will put up with me even though my style might seem stiff and too formal to you! This is a great place for sounding off, ME thinks, and woe is ME if I can’t be in the club. But don’t EVER tell me it’s o.k. to put “me” before “you”. “Me and my sister are going shopping now.” I CAN’T STAND THAT!

  104. I don’t agree with many of you. ha-ha

    In fact, I see that many people are making errors even in their short posts.

    Yes, language does evolve but in reality most evolving nowadays is done out of lazyness and ignorance as oppose to being expressive.

    I do believe people start a sentence with an ‘and’ or ‘but’ simply because that is how people are using the spoken language. (To pause longer than a comma would justify a new sentence in thier opinion.) However, that still does not make it correct, it just means that the person speaking is not speaking ‘correct’ English either.

    No comma before ‘and’ or ‘but’ is the other bugbear of many. There is no reason for it to be there and it should not be used.

    Soon, in England itself, we will all be tawkin like chavs man ya know whar mean? The education system is so poor nowadays that none gives a toot basically about keeping up standards.

    :-D

  105. Wow, Fred. I usually wouldn’t do this, but you *are* asking for it. I mean, the whole point of the column is that some rules aren’t as hard-and-fast as persnickety editors and repressed grade-school teachers would have us believe. And you come in saying, “Oh no, these are *rules* by golly. We’re meant to *follow* them.”

    Then you go and make a slew of errors of your own. Shall we start at the beginning?

    “I don’t agree with many of you.”

    Unclear. Are you saying there are many of us with whom you disagree? Or that that are not many of us with whom you agree? The alternative in each case being that you don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

    “ha-ha”

    Shouldn’t that have a capital letter? And maybe some punctuation?

    “Yes, language does evolve but in reality most evolving nowadays is done out of lazyness and ignorance as oppose to being expressive.”

    That should be two sentences, with the first one ending after “evolve”. “Laziness” is misspelled. And the correct phrase is “as opposed to”, not “as oppose to”.

    “I do believe people start a sentence with an ‘and’ or ‘but’ simply because that is how people are using the spoken language.”

    Are there different “rules” for written as opposed to spoken English? I’m not aware of any. Although admittedly common usage is different in the two formats.

    Also, the added emphasis of “I do believe” versus “I believe” suggests you are contrasting with a previous statement that you *don’t* believe. This misplaced emphasis is confusing.

    “To pause longer than a comma would justify a new sentence in thier opinion.”

    You are assuming a reason without any apparent basis. If they are speaking that way, “simply because that is how people are using the spoken language,” (your own assertion) then they’re not making any judgment about what is “justified”. And you misspelled “their”.

    “However, that still does not make it correct, it just means that the person speaking is not speaking ‘correct’ English either.”

    This should also be broken into two sentences.

    Also, since you are criticizing the written word and comparing it to spoken, you should have written, “the person writing does not speak ‘correct’ English either.”

    “There is no reason for it to be there and it should not be used.”

    This should either be two sentences or, preferably, change the “and” to “so” to denote causation.

    “The education system is so poor nowadays that none gives a toot basically about keeping up standards.”

    None what? Did you mean “no one”? And if no one gives a toot basically, does anyone give a toot complexly? Maybe it’s a misplaced modifier, and what you meant was “basically no one”. In which case “essentially” is a much better word choice.

    Hmm … I just checked out your website. “Our little network here is made up of several individuals that between us have experience in all things seo. Namely, website design, seo, ppc and marketing. Even black-hat, hacking and cracking for the less shy.”

    So you’re advertising illegal or, at least unethical, services. And what do you sell? SEO optimization. On a site with a hyphen in the URL, when the unhyphenated name is available. So you seem to be unethical *and* incompetent.

    This started out as a typical online grammar rant. Just a little harmless fun. But then I find out you’re one of the people working to break the internet. You suck.

  106. Gee, Fred, what about spelling?? Or are those just typos? My typing is lousy so I can relate to that, but a little proof reading takes care of most of the errors. Yes, there’s a comma before “but” and it’s staying there. ☺

  107. :-o

    Hypenated urls rule, by far. It seperates the words into two seperate words for Google, thousands of tests have proven this.

    Yes they were typo’s.

    A lot of it is just opinion and interpretation. I am not English by birth but appreciate the culture and the beauty of language even if I am not capable of using it perfectly myself.

    I put smileys to show I was actually being light hearted but believe that some of my points still remain valid. Have you walked around London lately and listened to young people speak? Eventually do you believe that we will all be speaking ‘text speak’ and talking like gangters?

    I just believe that there is always a correct way whether we choose to ignore it or not is all.

    There is no need for the comma before but, it is just a wasted comma :-p

    I simply do some seo work not own the website or sell anything unethical that I am aware of. I have some blue chip clients also.

    Of course we have knowledge of ‘black hat’ techniques, we have clients at major networks like stompernet and they own as many as a thousand domains that are marketing in every way possible. That is thier business decision that makes them thousands of dollars a week.

    Black hat is not sending people viruses or anything bad, it is simply heavy marketing; high return for high risk and it is only really Google that has an issue with these type of things because we build thousands of backlinks successfully. They do not like that it is possible to own the top ten results in a search.

    It does require hard work I might add.

    :-)

    Have great weekend all.

  108. Every single grammar tip I can pickup I appreciate. English has never been a subject I like, but I find myself doing a lot of writing now. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I see I need to comb through this site for other tips about writing. Thanks!

    http://avgibby.posterous.com

  109. You can break any grammar rule– as long as you KNOW the rules so you can break them AND know WHY you are breaking them.

    There is a difference between being a rule breaker and bring an offender through ignorance.

  110. For example…out of stupidity, I didn’t copy edit my post and said “and bring” instead of “and being”

  111. @Nancy: I so get you there. Rule 1 is still painful to me. Rule 2 and 3 can be broken, but we must realise that the primary goal of language is to communicate. This implies that we need to adapt to situations.

    I feel the same way about “big words” :) Some people insist on using unusual words to prove they have a great vocabulary – but if you are not communicating,what are you doing?

  112. I love these tips and although I DO have a very well developed vocabulary, I totally agree with @Nancy, if we are speaking to other rocket scientists or college professors, it might make sense to use big words only WE would “get” but for the average person, even if they DO know what we are talking about, why make a production out of using every big word we know when a simple one will do and there can be no misunderstanding that way.

    @jantallent

  113. I agree, in general. However, one of the most commonly broken grammar rule is that punctuation isn’t placed within speak marks for example “quote”. The irony, is that one simple fix within Microsoft’s word would change that behaviour to correct it – i.e. “quote.”

    • D. Offer, the school of thought on the placement of punctuation within quote marks is split. That split is as wide as an ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, to be precise. Here in the U.S., it is decidedly wrong to place punctuation outside the quote mark except under specific circumstances. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the practice of placing it outside the quote mark is peculiar to English writers in the U.K., but writers of American English simply do not do that in, say, a typical line of quoted speech. For example, “She said the book is well written.” That is the standard in the U.S.

      Here’s a good explanation of the rule: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp

  114. As to Rule #1, there is one situation in which ending a sentence with a preposition is absolutely wrong. An example of that is, “Where are we going to?” That of course should simply be, “Where are we going?”

    If someone already mentioned that in these comments, I apologize for the redundancy.

  115. There are some interesting points said here.
    I do not have any problems saying or writing “To whom did you give the note…” or, “From where did (something/someone) come?”, without any feeling of stiltedness.

    Adhering to our grammatical rules makes it a lot easier to learn European languages, and to be able to speak them without sounding ignorant, in my opinion.

    As somneone said above, “There are many smart people who sound stupid because their grammar is bad.” That is so true!

    A factor possibly being missed here is that the basis of writing and speaking is communicate. Clarity of communication is important. Frequently adhering to the ‘rules’ helps this clarity, and maintains an exactness which is important. Spoken language may be more informal, but that does not make it right for every situation.
    Invariably short-cuts are taken with speech which can lead to misinterpretation.

    Creativity need not suffer while the rules are being adhered to- it does not hurt to have to rethink the way you speak or write before or as you are doing it. A problem with many today is their impatience, as well as a lack of care of whether or not they might be right, and whether or not there may have been a better way of expressing something.

    Mixing singular and plural nouns and verbs has to be one of my major hates, as well as the frequent use of there for any variation of there/their/they’re, as well as your for you’re. I cannot call this ‘evolution of the language’ as some might like to label it- to me it is just plain ignorance coupled with laziness, and it really hurts to see it, as you start to question your own writing after a while and wonder which way is right!

  116. Excellent lesson on grammar rules.

  117. I wish I had time to read everyone’s post to ensure I am not being redundant. One of my biggest pet peeves is ending sentences with a preposition when it is not necessary. Take that ridiculous commercial by the mobile phone company, Boost Mobile, where the catch phrase is “Where you at?” Seriously, this is where ending sentences with prepositions makes people sound like they are idiots. The “at” is unnecessary and leaves the listener waiting for the rest of the sentence, like “Where are you today?”. I strategy avoided the example of “Where are you right now?” Which is an example of when ending the sentence with a preposition is reasonable. But in this case “now” is a measurement of time.

    I think in blogging a more relaxed style of writing is reasonable but certainly in professional writing it is important to stick to the rules.

    • “I strategy avoided the example of “Where are you right now?” Which is an example of when ending the sentence with a preposition is reasonable. But in this case “now” is a measurement of time.”

      Stacy, I’d like to point out some errors in your three sentences, above. This is, after all, a discussion of grammar and writing.

      In the first sentence, second word: That should be “strategically” not “strategy.”

      As to the last two sentences, I’m not even sure I can believe what I see. Are you really suggesting “now” is a preposition? Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not. “Now’ can be identified and function as many different parts of speech, but of all of them, preposition is not one of them.

      I apologize if I mistook what your wrote, but then, perhaps you should have written it more clearly.

  118. davidinengland :

    This is fine stuff, except…

    “Except that it’s really not that big OF a deal.” UGGGHHH! I loathe the ‘of’ that so often obtrudes into US sentences of this type.

    ‘He is something of a poet’ – fine. The ‘of’ is doing something. The sentence dies without it.

    ‘It’s not that good of a show’. No, different kind of sentence. You can (and must) excise the ‘of”. Without the ‘of’, the sentence twinkles (mildly).

    “But this is a page about US English. In the United States, everyone says ‘not that something of a something’.” The most attentive American writers don’t. Does Philip Roth? Did Saul Bellow? Would the editing elves at the New Yorker let it through?

    But, like I said… good and useful page.

    Regards from the Third World,
    david

  119. Good points all, but it should be stressed that, as the writer puts it, “as in all things, take it in moderation.” I can just see eager revisionists with their red pens turning “Ask not for whom the bell tolls” into “Don’t ask whom the bell tolls for.” Plenty of situations occur in which the aforementioned rules serve to clarify the expression or simply to render it more elegant.

  120. Wow, I have to say that I totally disagree with this article…to ignore and constantly break grammar rules does nothing but make the writer appear uneducated. We don’t write like we speak…perhaps we should. To that end, though, I’d prefer we speak the way we write instead of the other way around.