3 Writing Rules You Must Learn and Then Throw Away

 In Editing, Writing

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun” Katharine Hepburn

The writing rules you learned in school have probably served you well. However, some of them are based on arbitrary choices by long-dead grammarians and should often be broken because language constantly evolves and writing ‘rules’ must evolve with it.

Here are three rules that you should learn, and then learn to ignore when it’s appropriate. If you’re interested in writing rules that you actually need, Grammar Girl is a great site to explore.

And Why Not?

Oops! Broke a major rule from elementary school. Remember, NEVER start a sentence with a conjunction. I wish I could tell you why this rule exists, but I just don’t know. I even looked it up. Guess what? I couldn’t find an answer. So, is this a rule, or a stylistic preference? The reality is that there’s no reason not to start a sentence with a conjunction.

We use conjunctions to begin sentences in our everyday speech, so why not in writing?

But, like many things, don’t break this ‘rule’ too often or you’ll annoy your readers.

I also recommend following the elementary school guidelines in academic and formal business writing. Or, may work in an environment where beginning a sentence with a conjunction is frowned upon. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong, don’t make waves over a minor issue. But in your personal writing, go ahead and start sentences with conjunctions.

Just Don’t.

The dreaded sentence fragment must be avoided at all costs, right? Wrong!!

Fragments are a great way to change the pace of your writing and can make it more interesting.

This is another writing rule that it is appropriate to break – except when it isn’t (ie business communications and academic writing). It’s also a rule that should not be broken too often or your writing will become tiresome.

“Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” – Dalai Lama

This is a Writing Rule Up With Which I Will Not Put!

This sentence is the direct result of grammarians working to apply the rules of Latin to English. Just because writing rules say you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, wouldn’t you rather say “This is a rule that I will not put up with”?

Like most people, I think Yoda was pretty cool, but I really don’t want to talk or write like him.

So, go ahead and put prepositions at the end of sentences – when you need to. Your other option is to rewrite the sentence completely: what’s wrong with “I will not put up with this rule”?

* * * * *

So, go ahead and be a rebel. Break the rules. But not until you learn them. Only then will you understand what rules can be broken and in what circumstances. Formal and business writing should follow as many rules as possible – even the arbitrary ones – because that’s what convention says.

But, if you can get away with bending or even outright breaking writing rules, then please do so! You’ll be a better writer for it.

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