The English language is full of rules that will make your head spin. Some are
easy understandable necessary (e.g. ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’) while others are downright baffling. Why can’t you end a sentence in a preposition? Says who!? I’d love to know what sick, twisted person thought this rule up, and not-so-gently explain to him just how many times this awful rule has kept me up at night.
If you notice, however, I break these rules. Often. And you know what? It’s totally okay. Language is constantly changing to suit new ways of communication, and frankly, there’s a time and a place for even using the dreaded “academic ‘I'”. Writing and grammar rules are largely a matter of stylistic choice or personal preference. Depending on your audience, your purpose for writing, and even your method of communication, you may be better off ditching some of the most well-known writing conventions.
Generally speaking, the more formal your writing, the more of these rules you should probably adhere to, but I’m otherwise giving you the okay to stop fretting over the following grammar myths:
1. Writing in the passive voice is always wrong — The active voice is typically more engaging, however using the passive voice has its place too. Maybe this is my Japanese education showing through (the Japanese language loves vague subjects & passive structures), but using the passive voice can soften sentences, shift blame, and convey ideas in a more gentle manner. It can also shift the focus from one subject to another. Don’t know who’s responsible? Passive voice is your friend.
2. And you should never start a sentence with a conjunction — Another stylistic choice. Starting sentences with a conjunction adds variation to your cadence, can be used to create suspense and/or flow, and is often a marker of personal, more colloquial style. Forget what you learned in grade school; this is a grammar myth.
3. Don’t split infinitives — An infinitive consists of “to” + a verb. Take the classic Star Trek example, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Grammarians would argue that it should be changed to, “to go boldly“, so as not to split the infinitive, but this is simply a pet peeve.
Choosing to split an infinitive is all about where you want your emphasis, and most times is a purely stylistic choice. Don’t let people’s personal pet peeves get to you.
4. A paragraph contains 3-5 sentences — I want to yell at every school teacher who has told their students this. Sure, it’s a technique to help students set a foundation for writing, but it’s a juvenile tactic that is often abused. Paragraphs are meant to organize ideas. You can have a long paragraph, or a short one. Breaks in paragraphs should occur when you switch topics or ideas; 3-5 sentences is an arbitrary number.
In today’s age of short, quippy Internet articles, paragraphs are used to visually break up information so as not to overload readers. You’ve probably seen loads of one sentence paragraphs, and guess what? That’s okay too! Break this rule now and vary your paragraph structure to not only better organize your writing, but create personality and flow.
5. Never end a sentence with a preposition — Trying to rearrange your sentence so that it doesn’t end in a preposition can leave you reeling. Ending a sentence in a preposition either a) leads to overly formal-sounding sentences (not meant for more conversational writing, creative writing, or informal pieces like blog posts) or b) makes your sentence just sound weird. Blame this myth on the 17th century Latin-obsessives and end your sentence in a preposition if the occasion calls for it!
What writing rules do you find unnecessary or annoying? Rant away!