50 Years of Stupid Grammar Rules


Just read this rather devastating critique of "The Elements of Style" and found myself agreeing with all of it except maybe the "none of us" part. Curious to hear other responses.


edited Apr 27 '13 at 02:15 Shawn Mooney Expert

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My introduction to "The Elements of Style" was in 1974 -- freshman English at the University of California, Berkeley. I was lucky to have a full professor, not a graduate assistant, teaching the course. Professor Bloom used "The Elements of Style." But, interestingly, it was not held out as a how to guide. Rather, Bloom focused on the book's flaws, using those as object lessons that emphasized his own views of style and grammar.


I tend to agree with Geoffrey Pullum's critique -- but not always and not completely. My fundamental disagreement with Elements is that it tends toward the black and white -- rather than the shade of gray that color actual usage. I find Garner's Modern American Usage to be a better reflection of what is "Standard", what is unacceptable, and what lies between.


For instance, Elements insists that however should never open a sentence. Garner's provides more nuanced guidance. While it is true that often "however" is BETTER placed elsewhere in the sentence, it may also serve a valid purpose when leading a sentence. Garner asks the writer to consider whether "But" is a better, more direct, and more concise replacement for "However" at the start of a sentence. (Notice, Garner's suggestion run counter to an Elements bug-a-boo -- starting sentences with And and But.)


I could go on, but there is no need ...

link comment edited Apr 27 '13 at 04:07 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

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