Writing rules you learned in fourth grade– that were wrong!

classroom 1Many, many times during my writing career, I have shown a draft to a client who informs me I have committed an error. The client is adamant that the text is incorrect because he remembers a certain rule from fourth grade.

While I am always grateful to any proofer who picks up an error before the piece is published, many times the text in question is actually correct!

The problem is that English is a very complicated language. There are lots of rules. The rules apply in some cases, but not others. There are often exceptions to the rule.

And sometimes it’s okay to break a rule.

You couldn’t learn all of that in fourth grade. But somehow those nuanced lessons from later grades weren’t remembered as clearly as the ones we learned when we were nine.

One more thing.

Sometimes the person learned a “rule” that was wrong.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

You must always use complete sentences. That’s an excellent rule. Using complete sentences with a subject and predicate helps convey complete thoughts.

However, sentence fragments can be useful in informal writing to change up the rhythm of the copy. (Yes, I view blog entries as informal writing. Newsletter articles and fundraising appeal letters are examples of informal writing, too.)
I used a sentence fragment in this entry: “One more thing.” I think it works here to signal to the reader that something different is coming.

For more reading on this topic, go to:
http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/effectivefrag.htm

You must never end a sentence with a preposition. I’ve been “corrected” on this countless times, and you’ve probably heard it, too.

The weird thing is that this was never a rule for the English language.
Latin, however, has such a rule, and some people, feeling Latin was superior to English, tried to apply Latin rules to English. This was taught as a rule by curmudgeons for more than a century, and I think it may finally be fading out.

It was reported that Sir Winston Churchill, the great British political leader, scoffed at the so-called rule, saying, “That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!” No matter who said it, that quote helps us remember that trying to apply this to English will only mangle our prose.

For more reading on this topic, go to:
http://grammartips.homestead.com/prepositions1.html

 


Have you had clients or proofers “correct” text that was actually right? Please share!

Connie Oswald Stofko

9 Comments »

  1. 1

    I’ve never had anyone take me to task but it still hurts to end a sentence with a preposition. I spend many painful moments rephrasing sentences just to avoid it.

    Comment by Maxine — October 26, 2009 @ 8:37 PM

  2. 2

    Don’t let your old ideas cause you pain and get you ticked off!

    Comment by Connie — October 27, 2009 @ 9:29 AM

  3. 3

    My daughter is in 4th grade now; I am a writer/editor by trade. You have no idea how much I worry about what she may learn… I’ve already planned my response to whatever teacher she has when she is told to “put two spaces between sentences.”

    NOOOOO. That’s a holdover from typewriter days, and publications never did that anyway.

    Comment by Hope — November 6, 2009 @ 2:08 PM

  4. 4

    Thank you, Hope! I always tell interns that we don’t type anymore; we typeset.

    Comment by Connie — November 6, 2009 @ 2:12 PM

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