There are a lot of grammar rules out there. Whether you have to follow all of them is subjective. The way I see it: you should follow the ones that are actually rules.
So which ones do I have to follow?
You should always follow the rule about using apostrophes only to indicate possession and create contractions. You should generally not use them to make a word plural; however, some writers do use them to pluralize lowercase letters to avoid confusion (e.g., dot your i’s and cross your t’s).
Also, even though it seems counterintuitive, do not use an apostrophe to denote possession when using pronouns (e.g., its not it’s, his not his’, etc.)
Quotation marks are for quotes; the titles of short works, chapters, etc.; and nicknames. You shouldn’t use them for emphasis or people will think you have no idea what you’re talking about. For example, if you see the following, what do you think?
- “Quality” legal advice
- “Fresh” fish
This probably makes you question the quality of the legal advice or the freshness of the fish. Use italics or bold for emphasis.
Which ones can I ignore?
Even as an editor, I ignore some grammar rules.
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
My grade school teachers taught me to never end a sentence with a preposition because it just wasn’t correct; however, plenty of writers end sentences with prepositions. Consider quite possibly the most famous author of all time: Shakespeare.
- “Good, yet remember who thou hast aboard.” (The Tempest)
- “Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white
Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on.” (Twelfth Night)
Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction
This can grow into quite the debate sometimes, and I’m not sure why. Authors throughout history have used conjunctions (e.g., and, because, yet, etc.) to start sentences. Consider the following:
- “So he couldn’t have killed his father…” (Stephen King’s It)
- “And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand.” (William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury)
In most cases, active voice just sounds better, but there are a few cases where passive voice may work best.
- When you don’t know who is doing what: “The man was pulled away into the darkness.”
- When you want to keep something ambiguous: “Mistakes were made.” (President Reagan discussing the Iran-Contra scandal)
You can use passive voice if you think it sounds better, just don’t use it around Stephen King; he hates it!
“They” as a Singular Pronoun
For grammar’s sake, I try to use the correct pronoun, but using “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun is much easier and just makes sense. For example, writing, “Every driver should wear their seatbelt,” looks much better (and is easier to write) than “Every driver should wear his or her seatbelt.”
Before we get into whether it’s okay to ignore the rule about splitting infinitives, we should clarify what it means to split an infinitive. An infinitive is a verb’s basic form (e.g., to mix, to cook, to sleep, to write, etc.).
Splitting an infinitive means placing an adverb between the infinitive to better describe the action:
- “to slowly walk”
Sometimes it just sounds better to split an infinitive. This one is up for debate. When I’m working on a piece, I usually write it both ways and use whichever sounds best:
- “He told me to slowly walk down the street.”
- “He told me to walk slowly down the street.”
You can, in most cases, decide whether or not you’d like to use an Oxford comma (e.g., the last comma in a series: eggs, milk, and bread vs. eggs, milk and bread).
The only time that you cannot make the decision yourself is if your field requires or forbids it. For example, the American Bar Association requires it while the Associated Press forbids it.
Essentially, as long as you’re consistent or don’t have a house style you need to follow, you can choose which ones to follow and which to ignore.
Come back next week to learn more about what plagiarism really is. And as always, if you need help with content writing, get in touch with us today: 888-521-3880.