5 grammar ‘rules’ you can safely ignore

Posted on 10 July 2015 by Emily Stella

 

Myth 1: Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction

Conjunctions are joining words which connect two clauses together. They include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so and because.

I like to keep my sentences short and my writing informal. And this often results in starting a sentence with a conjunction.

If your writing is easy to read and flows well, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction. Starting a sentence with and can be a useful aid to continue the narrative and can also help add emphasis to your writing. Just like starting a sentence with but can signal a shift in pace and direction.

However, while starting a sentence with a conjunction is fine in emails and blogs, I don’t recommend it for all business writing. It’s best to avoid this in documents such as reports and memos.
 

Myth 2: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition

This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.
W. Churchill

There is a traditional view that sentences are bad if they end with words like on, in, out, down, at, to and over (prepositions). There’s nothing wrong with keeping a preposition at the end, though you can restructure your sentence to avoid this if it’s asked of you – as in the example below.

The private equity firm decided that this was the best business to invest in.
(preposition at the end)

The private equity firm decided that this was the best business in which to invest.
(sentence restructured to avoid preposition at the end)

 

Myth 3: Never split your infinitives

Splitting an infinitive is placing a word between to and the infinitive verb: to freely live, to loudly laugh, to eagerly learn.

There’s nothing grammatically wrong with a split infinitive. For some reason, though, it’s been taboo for a long time. So although the world won’t end, a few people might get very upset.

As such, I recommend avoiding a split infinitive where possible. In many instances, you’ll be able to rearrange the sentence without affecting the meaning. However, clarity and smooth writing must take priority. If that means splitting an infinitive, so be it.
 

Myth 4: Never put a comma before ‘and’

A comma is actually often welcome before an and for the following reasons.

First, it’s useful in certain lists before the final and.

In accepting this award for best employee of the year, I’d like to thank those who inspired me the most: my parents, Steve Jobs and the Queen.

Without the comma before and, there’s a chance someone could think you were the child of Steve Jobs and the Queen. Unlikely, but possible. Add the comma and there’s no doubt it’s a list of three people:

In accepting this award for best employee of the year, I’d like to thank those who inspired me the most: my parents, Steve Jobs, and the Queen.

Second, a comma is useful to help readers pause for a moment. This is because and can be a separator as well as a joiner.

It was a hot summer’s day, and the office air conditioning wars had begun.

 

Myth 5: Never use contractions

A contraction is where two words are squashed into one with the use of an apostrophe. For example, I’m (I am), don’t (do not), can’t (cannot). These contractions are most often used in informal writing.

Contractions are perfectly acceptable in business writing – they can add warmth to your writing. Yet, it’s best to omit them from formal documents such as reports, white papers and contracts.