Tag Archives: standard written English

How to Write Good

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.

  1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
  2. Between you and I, case is important.
  3. A writer must be sure to avoid using sexist pronouns in his writing.
  4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  5. Don’t be a person whom people realize confuses who and whom.
  6. Never use no double negatives.
  7. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. That is something up with which your readers will not put.
  8. When writing, participles must not be dangled.
  9. Be careful to never, under any circumstances, split infinitives.
  10. Hopefully, you won’t float your adverbs.
  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  12. Lay down and die before using a transitive verb without an object.
  13. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  14. The passive voice should be avoided.
  15. About sentence fragments.
  16. Don’t verb nouns.
  17. In letters themes reports and ads use commas to separate items in a series.
  18. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
  19. “Don’t overuse ‘quotation marks.’ “
  20. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (if the truth be told) superfluous.
  21. Contractions won’t, don’t and can’t help your writing voice.
  22. Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  23. Don’t forget to use end punctuation
  24. Its important to use apostrophe’s in the right places.
  25. Don’t abbrev.
  26. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  27. Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
  28. Avoid mispellings.
  29. Check to see if you any words out.
  30. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  31. Avoid annoying, affected, and awkward alliterations, always.
  32. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  33. The bottom line is to bag trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  34. By observing the distinctions between adjectives and adverbs, you will treat your readers real good.
  35. Parallel structure will help you in writing more effective sentences and to express yourself more gracefully.
  36. 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.
  37. Foreign words and phrases are the reader’s bete noire and are not apropos.
  38. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  39. Always go in search for the correct idiom.
  40. Do not cast statements in the negative form.
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These Words: Weaselly, Superfluous, or Necessary?

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Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.

Maybe

Perhaps

Appears

Seems

Possibly

At this time

In fact, depending on the context, these words could fit into any one of those three categories.

• If you honestly don’t know about a situation, it might be necessary to use one to give yourself some wiggle room and buy some time.

• If you are certain of the situation and you use one of those words, you are adding extra verbiage that serves no purpose. Cut out all deadwood.

• If your intent is to deceive and you use one of those words, you are being a word weasel. Avoid this.

 

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Proofreading for Me, Myself, Personally, and I

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Apparently, Steve Coogan has never seen himself as a paragon of good writing, either.

Have you ever heard another person say or write something similar to the following sentence?  I myself personally am opposed to the senator’s proposal.

I myself personally find that sentence exceedingly painful. It contains a triple redundancy. Get rid of the clutter. Say what you mean. Get in, get out.

Personal and its relative personally are often redundant. Why say you have close personal friends? If they’re close friends, obviously they are people you know well. When you state, “Personally, I enjoy skiing,” that’s the way you feel. Personally adds nothing but redundant clutter.

  • Proofreading involves more than looking for typos. Proofread for spelling errors, grammar and punctuation problems, content, awkward phrasing, redundancies, clichés, parallelism, jargon and slang. If that seems too much to look for on one go-through, proofread more than once, looking for just a few problems (or even one) at a time. Your readers will thank you, and your writing will show you to be a professional.

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Adverbs: Are They Necessary?

I’m not advising you to avoid all adverbs. But so often adverbs are no more than fillers or result in redundancy. Take a look at these:

ALSO:  “In addition, Ronnie is also attending the conference.” In addition/also?  Choose one.

PERSONALLY: If you write, “Personally, I don’t care for pineapple,” you are being redundant.

SIGNIFICANTLY:  When you write that “the horse’s weight dropped significantly,” you are not conveying useful information. Be specific. How much weight did the horse lose?

CURRENTLY: Writing that “Edward is currently living in Chicago,” is redundant.

LITERALLY: You know this is a big annoyance for me; I’ve already written a post or two about it.  It means something actual. If you say someone was “literally blown away by the news,” I expect to see socks and shoes spinning through the air in addition to the body.

ABSOLUTELY: This word adds no meaning. “We were absolutely stunned by the birth of quadruplets” doesn’t make your amazement any stronger. Either you were stunned or you weren’t.

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Subject First?

The most common sentence pattern in English is subject + verb + direct object (S+V+DO).  For instance, The dog chewed the bone. But sometimes it’s more interesting to vary the pattern and put the verb first:  Down the street ran the dog.

Try to avoid starting sentences with There is, There are, Here is, Here are.  But if you do use one of those constructions, be aware that the subject is not There or Here.  It will always be the first noun or pronoun after it:

       There is someone knocking at the door.

       Here are the reports you asked for.

       There are two dogs fighting over the bone.

       Here is the book you asked to borrow.

 

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To Split or Not to Split

I’m sure you have all been warned at some time not to split infinitives when you write.  But do you know what an infinitive is?

It is the form of the verb with to placed before it:

To eat, to sing, to go, to ponder, to do, to split

I am here to give you permission to split any infinitive you choose, as long as your sentence sounds better that way:

To hungrily eat, to lustily sing, to boldly go (the world’s most famous split infinitive), to moodily ponder, to enthusiastically do everything

If you don’t like the way your sentence sounds when splitting the infinitive, just try out the adverb in other places in the sentence, and you will discover the best spot for it.

This so-called rule against splitting infinitives arose because pedants in the mid-18th century thought applying the rules of Latin grammar would result in the best written English.  In Latin, it is impossible to split an infinitive—but English is amenable to it and I hereby give you all permission to do it.

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