Many people seem to think that grammar is nothing but a bunch of arcane rules they can’t be bothered to learn. (And we admit that a little grammar mystique helps keep us copywriters employed.)
Sure, grammar has lots of rules. So why make up more? Here are five of the most common “rules” that aren’t really rules at all—just misconceptions we hear from those trying to “help” us write “properly.”
1. Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
And why not? There is no such rule in English, no matter how many people believe there is. Shakespeare, for example, often started sentences with and. And if it’s good enough for Bill—not to mention the King James Bible—it’s plenty good enough for your ad copy.
2. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
Another usage “rule” propagated by some misguided aristocrats who thought English should behave just like Latin, the favored tongue of the elite. The best response to this one is attributed in various forms to Winston Churchill: “That is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” Neither should you.
3. Never split an infinitive.
(Quick reminder: An infinitive is the basic to ___ form of a verb, free of subject or tense.) Splitting an infinitive—putting a word in between—is not forbidden. But it must be done with a good ear and a purpose: to add emphasis or improve the rhythm. “To boldly go where no man has gone before” simply sounds better in that word order, not because it was in Shatner’s voice.
4. Don’t use the same word twice in a sentence.
Well, that all depends: Is it done out of laziness or for a desired effect? It’s good to avoid careless repetition—but intentional repetition is quite another matter. “Government of the people, by the elected, for the citizenry” makes perfect sense, but it’s no match for the powerful cadence of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
5. However belongs at the beginning of a sentence, to signal the contrast with what’s come before.
We’ll let Strunk and White take this one: “Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is nevertheless. The word usually serves better when not in first position. When however comes first, it means in whatever way or to whatever extent.”
However we write, we all want to write well. That’s enough of a challenge without trying to follow so-called rules that don’t exist.