5 Grammar Rules to Forget

Tuesday, February 43 min read

Rules were made to be broken, and that’s especially true with grammar. As our culture and means of communication change, so do words and how we use them. Whether you’re a writer by trade, or simply crafting an email, a thank-you note, or a particularly important text, the message matters. The next time you’re facing writer's block, break free from your grammar bonds and embrace doing something different.

1) Don’t end your sentence with a preposition.

English teachers may cringe, but this rule is just begging to be broken. Conversation is becoming more casual, and ending sentences with a preposition is a side effect of that. For example: “He’s someone I can have a meaningful conversation with.” Technically, the “with” should appear earlier, as in, “He’s someone with whom I can have a meaningful conversation.” But when you read that out loud, you quickly understand this rearrangement of the sentence sounds fusty and out of touch with how most people talk today.

Rules are meant to help people understand language with agreed-upon guidelines. Breaking this one doesn't make anything harder to understand, so you get a pass. If you can’t conceive of ending your thought with a preposition, change up your sentence structure altogether, as in, “He’s someone who can carry a conversation.”

2) Don't start your sentences with conjunctions.

When you were learning how to write, you were probably taught by some teacher, somewhere, that starting a sentence with “and” was inexcusable. But it’s simply not true, to the point where even grammar books don’t really eschew the practice. If you need proof, historical writings dating back to the ninth century are guilty of it.

Kicking off a sentence with a conjunction (use the mnemonic FANBOYS to help you remember "for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," and "so") can help drive home the point you were making in the previous sentence while giving the reader a break between thoughts. And 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.

3) Don't use contractions.

Conversational tone is becoming the preferred way to write just about everything. And guess what? You use contractions — such as "we’re," "I’ll," "should’ve" — when you speak. 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.

4) Don't create sentence fragments.

More than a few grammar purists may turn in their graves to learn that people would dare craft a sentence without a complete 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. One caveat? Moderation.

5) Don't split infinitives.

If your elementary school grammar lessons are failing you on what an infinitive is, relax. It’s basically adding the word “to” before a verb — any verb. It’s the unconjugated (not really a word, but it explains the opposite of "conjugated") 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,” which gives the idea that this guest was asked to discreetly excuse themselves. The grammatically correct version could be either: "He agreed to leave the party quietly and quickly" or "He quietly and quickly agreed to leave the party. Split infinitives are usually caused by adverb insertions within the verb phrase, and as you can see by the two options, they can create ambiguity when used incorrectly. However, in spoken context, the meaning is generally understood.

Daily Question