We all know rules were made to be broken, and that’s especially true with grammar. As our society changes (as well as the ways we communicate), so do the words we use and how we use them. In fact, shaking things up grammar-wise can add new life to your writing, whether you’re a writer by trade, or simply crafting an amazing email, letter, or particularly well thought-out text. The next time you’re stuck, break free from your grammar bonds, and embrace doing something different.
The good news? This dated rule is becoming increasingly OK to break. In a standard sentence, a preposition usually appears before a noun. For example: “He’s someone I can’t have a meaningful conversation with.” Technically, the “with” should appear earlier, as in, “He’s someone with whom I can’t have a meaningful conversation.” But when you read that out loud, you quickly see how this rearrangement of the sentence just feels fusty and out of touch with how most people talk today. If you just can’t conceive of ending your thought with a preposition, the easiest thing is to change up your sentence structure altogether, like, “He’s someone who can’t carry a conversation.”
When you were learning how to write, you were probably taught by some teacher, somewhere, that starting a sentence with “and” was inexcusable. It’s simply not true, to the point where grammar books don’t really eschew the practice. If you need proof, historical writings dating back to the 9th century are guilty of it.
Kicking off a sentence with a conjunction — yet, but, and, or — can help drive home the point you were making in the previous sentence while giving the reader a break between thoughts. If it helps you sleep better at night, a review of some of the world’s most well-regarded writing contains 10% or more sentences that start off with conjunctions.
Conversational tone is increasingly becoming the preferred way to write just about everything. And guess what? You use contractions — such as we’re, I’ll, should’ve — all the time. The one place contractions typically aren’t welcome is in academic writing, but if you’re drafting an article, blog, email, or advertising copy, there’s nothing wrong with shaving off a word or two with a contraction.
More than a few grammar purists may turn in their graves to learn that people would dare to craft a sentence without a proper subject, noun, and verb structure. Too bad. The fact is, short sentence fragments are useful to get the job done, particularly when you want to draw attention to or put extra emphasis on something. Caveat? Moderation.
If your elementary school grammar lessons are failing you on infinitives, relax. It’s basically just adding the word “to” before a verb — any verb. It’s the unconjugated form of the verb. For example, “He agreed to leave the party,” is a perfectly acceptable use of an infinitive. “He agreed” is the conjugated verb phrase, and “to leave” is the infinitive. But if you want to tell a more complete story, you might want to say, “He agreed to quietly and quickly leave the party,” giving you the idea that this guest has been asked to discreetly excuse themselves. Split infinitives are generally caused by adverb insertions, and while any A+ writer will tell you not to go overboard on the adverb train, sometimes they’re necessary to paint a more interesting picture for your audience.