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Open Book: Grammar Rules You Can Break

Did you ever write a sentence and wonder if it was acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition?  Or begin a sentence with a conjunction?  Or write the way we talk?  Me too.  Even though I have seen magazines, printed articles, and newspapers write in an informal style, bucking up against Strunk and White’s Elements of Style somehow seemed incorrect.  (I have to admit that my elementary education had brainwashed me as far as grammar rules and the mighty diagramming sentences tool.)

A couple of days ago, Erik Decker posted the blog The writing rules you’re allowed to break  http://www.prdaily.com/writingandediting/Articles/9060.aspx.  You don’t have to wonder any more whether you are the writing rebel.  Decker lists 5 common rules of grammar that have gained flexibility over the years.

1. You CAN end sentences with a preposition.           
2. You CAN start a sentence with or, and or but.
3. You do not have to start a sentence with a dependent clause.  You can end with one, if it makes more sense and doesn’t form a misplaced modifier (a dependent clause should be adjacent to the noun it describes).
4. You CAN use incomplete sentences sparingly.
5. A sentence DOES NOT always have a subject, verb and an object.  A paragraph is not always contain three to five sentences.        

These bendable rules are nothing new to the slick, contemporary magazine writers.  

However, one writing rule you CANNOT break is that every successful writer knows his audience.  (Decker should have added a sixth rule…You CAN use the pronoun he in a sentence to refer to an individual.  For a decade or so, it was a political taboo to choose a gender. The only way around this is to either reword the sentence to avoid using pronouns reflecting gender or adding the words “he and/or she” everywhere in an article.  Both options halted the flow of thought and sounded awkward.  So kudos to society for allowing the use of either one gender or the other.)  If your audience are professionals, writing along the accepted grammar rules is expected.  Anything less might decrease your credibility. 

For the details of the permissible writing rule changes, click on Decker’s blog:     http://www.prdaily.com/writingandediting/Articles/9060.aspx.   

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