Sent to me by my friend Marilyn, another language maven. Enjoy.
50 Rules for Writing Good
One of the more popular items that circulate through the network of folk faxology is a perverse set of rules along the lines of Thimk, We Never Make Mistakes and (this one runs off the page) PlanAhe…. These injunctions call attention to the very mistakes they seek to enjoin. English teachers, students, scientists and (scientific) writers have been circulating a list of self-contradictory rules of usage for more than a century, and have been collecting and creating them for almost half of one. Whatever you think of these slightly cracked nuggets of rhetorical wisdom, just remember that all generalizations are bad.
- Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
- Between you and I, case is important.
- A writer must be sure to avoid using sexist pronouns in his writing.
- Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
- Don’t be a person whom people realize confuses who and whom.
- Never use no double negatives.
- Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. That is something up with which your readers will not put.
- When writing, participles must not be dangled.
- Be careful to never, under any circumstances, split infinitives.
- Hopefully, you won’t float your adverbs.
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Lay down and die before using a transitive verb without an object.
- Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
- The passive voice should be avoided.
- About sentence fragments.
- Don’t verb nouns.
- In letters themes reports and ads use commas to separate items in a series.
- Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
- “Don’t overuse ‘quotation marks.’ “
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (if the truth be told) superfluous.
- Contractions won’t, don’t and can’t help your writing voice.
- Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
- Don’t forget to use end punctuation
- Its important to use apostrophe’s in the right places.
- Don’t abbrev.
- Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
- Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
- Avoid mispellings.
- Check to see if you any words out.
- One word sentences? Eliminate.
- Avoid annoying, affected, and awkward alliterations, always.
- Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
- The bottom line is to bag trendy locutions that sound flaky.
- By observing the distinctions between adjectives and adverbs, you will treat your readers real good.
- Parallel structure will help you in writing more effective sentences and to express yourself more gracefully.
- In my own personal opinion at this point of time, I think that authors, when they are writing, should not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that they don’t really need.
- Foreign words and phrases are the reader’s bete noire and are not apropos.
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
- Always go in search for the correct idiom.
- Do not cast statements in the negative form.
© Judi Birnberg
In Just My Typo, edited by Drummond Moir (gotta love his name), he cites a 19th century example of carelessness:
A New Orleans cotton broker sent a telegraph to New York, asking if he should buy cotton at the current prices. He received an answer of “No price too high.” Naturally, he bought as much as he could, only to discover that the answer should have been punctuated as follows: “No. Price too high.”
One tiny dot on paper can make a world of difference.
To my consternation, I have noticed that many people and advertising companies, perhaps the majority, omit a comma when a person’s or team’s name is in the sentence. I’ll add an X where commas belong in the sentences below. Pay particular attention to sentences that directly address a person.
Good for youX Henry!
NoX Sam, you are wrong about who started the argument.
Good morningX everyone.
In the last example, if you use the comma you are springing a surprise on Marlena. Without the comma, you are ordering someone to surprise Marlena as opposed to surprising someone else.
Adverbs are having their celebrity moment. The problem is that they are usually time and space wasters. How many times have you seen (or written) sentences containing the following?
Instead, use a verb that carries precise meaning; then you’ll have no need to add a superfluous adverb. If a television is blaring, no need to say that it’s blaring loudly. When someone shouts, it won’t be done quietly.
A friend’s young granddaughter was fond of starting most sentences with “actually.” When her grandma asked her what “actually” meant, Nicole gave it serious thought and finally answered, “Actually, I don’t know.”
Which choice is correct? Check your answers at the end of the quiz.
- (a) Smith referred to her as, “that useless cow.” (b) Smith referred to her as “that useless cow.”
- Eyewitnesses fled the scene in (a) a brown, 2002 Ford (b) a brown 2002 Ford.
- (a) Dr. Allen told her to: do whatever it takes to get the consent signed. (b) Dr. Allen told her to do whatever it takes to get the consent signed.
- Exxon is a (a) publicly traded company (b) publicly-traded company.
- The defendants seek to (a) run out the clock (b) run-out the clock.
Answers: 1. (b) 2. (b) 3. (b) 4. (a) 5. (a)
How did you do?
This quiz is modified from Bryan Garner’s Law Prose lessons. He is a consultant who leads continuing legal education seminars. The answers are correct whether you are a lawyer or a third grader.
In the following examples, I’m going to put an X where a comma belongs.
I’ve noticed that a use for commas I learned as a child has been disappearing (see above):
Thanks for everythingX Laura.
Both of those sentences should take a comma before the official names. This may be a battle I’ve lost, but I’m still using this rule in my own writing.
Some commas are needed for clarity:
When I was about to enter the houseX my cousin showed up.
Don’t forget a comma when your sentence ends with a confirming question:
You finished the report yesterdayX didn’t you?
© Judi Birnberg There must be a comma and quotation marks somewhere.
Did you know periods and commas always go inside quotation marks? Would I lie to you? (The Brits do the opposite, however.)
Here are a couple of examples:
Our teacher assigned us to read Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”
“The Turn of the Screw,” a short novel by Henry James, is considered a type of ghost story.