For many, learning and practicing good grammar may seem more like a punishment than an awesome opportunity to mold words into powerful ideas.
This fear may have grown into full blown anxiety – no one likes having their grammar questioned. The result of this anxiety is not writing, proofreading paralysis, becoming overly defensive (not open to criticism), or obsessing over non-standard “grammar rules” that most grammarians couldn’t care less about.
Yes, I ended a sentence in a preposition and I liked it. You did too, because “obsessing over non-standard ‘grammar rules’ about which most grammarians couldn’t care less” sounds condescending and arrogant.
Article writing is about connecting with readers, building trust, and then taking a little journey together (whether to build long-lasting relationships, encourage an exchange, or more). The best way to connect is through your voice, not your words.
Wait! Before you throw grammar completely out the window, remember that your readers still need to understand your message in order to connect with you. Always practice good grammar, but feel free to relax by tossing these 3 “grammar rules” right out the window.
“Don’t End a Sentence with a Preposition”
“What are you looking at?” – Madonna, Vogue
Some attribute this “rule” to John Dryden (English poet and literary critic); others say it was Robert Lowth (Oxford professor and Church of England bishop). Whoever it was, the shift to remove ourselves from ending sentences in a preposition was created to emulate Latin structure. Some rejected it; some didn’t because it often reads unnaturally. The opening of Madonna’s “Vogue” would sound odd if she stated, “At what are you looking?” Either way, don’t go out of your way to not end a sentence in a preposition because your third grade teacher scolded you.
Exception: Avoid using prepositions when they’re not needed. For example, the word “at” in “Where are you at?” is entirely superfluous. “Where are you?” is stronger and more precise.
“Don’t Start a Sentence with a Conjunction”
“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain
A conjunction is a word that joins words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. We’ve talked about conjunctions before and I stand by our message: You can use “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. And it’s great to use for emphasis. But the key is to not overdo it. Because your style could become too aggressive if you do. And choppy. Or even appear forgetful.
“Don’t Use ‘Which’ for ‘That'”
“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
The “proper” usage of the word “which” is used to ask for information specifying one or more people or things from a definite set and for nonrestrictive clauses (often functioning as a conjunction separating two related independent clauses). “That” is reserved for restrictive clauses (the sentence cannot be understood without the given clause). Let’s take a closer look:
The man threw the melons away that were more than one week old. (Restrictive)
The man threw the melons away, which were more than one week old. (Nonrestrictive)
As you can see, the sentences carry the same meaning, but emphasize different points. However, it’s becoming more widely accepted to use the word “which” for restrictive clauses (commonly used in British English).
The man threw the melons away which were more than one week old. (Restrictive)
Which style should you use? That’s entirely up to you.
At the end of the day, you should be comfortable with your writing. The more you write, share your ideas, and open yourself up to criticism, the better your grammar will become and the more you’ll discover what works (and what doesn’t). It takes a lot of work to master your style and to engage readers, but it’s well worth it.
What other grammar rules would you add to the toss bin? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you!