Guest post by Brenda Priddy, Daily Mayo
What do you think about when you hear the word “grammar?” Is it a long list of boring rules that make writing hard?
Many people dread writing simply because of the overwhelming number of rules. However, grammar was always intended to be a guideline for clarifying communication rather than a set of inflexible regulations.
Over time, grammar rules change. If they didn’t, we would still be saying with Shakespeare:
Tut, I am in their bosoms, and I know Wherefore they do it: they could be content To visit other places; and come down With fearful bravery, thinking by this face To fasten in our thoughts that they have courage; But ’tis not so.
We live in a world where communication is evolving faster than the speed of sound. Modern technology has changed the way written communication works on a fundamental level. And yet, many of the grammar rules taught today still cling to antiquated formatting.
After consulting with writers from Walrus Publishing, authors J.R. Bowles and Mark Baker, and professional book reviewers from the Book Bloggers Do It Better group, I’m confident in presenting this list of the top eight grammar rules that are no longer requirements for good writing:
Restrict Comma Use In school, you were probably taught to use commas in four cases only: to separate lists, independent clauses, introductory elements, or parenthetical elements. Now, the use of a comma is more flexible. Many writers use commas as a “breather” to indicate emphasis or flow in a sentence. This is helpful in modern writing, because, without the use of frequent commas, sentence meaning can be interpretative. Comma placement forces the brain to pause in certain areas, making your meaning clearer.
Never End Sentences with a Preposition There is a story about Winston Churchill that states he answered this when questioned about ending sentences with prepositions:
“This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Churchill was, apparently, fine with ending sentences with a preposition, and so are modern writers. It just feels awkward to say, “about what are you talking?” rather than “what are you talking about?”
Always Use Pronoun-Subject Agreement This issue arose when women grew tired of using “he” as the assumed gender. The equally awkward, “he or she” also drags in sentence placement. This brought about the use of the pronoun “they” when the gender of a person is unknown, even though it does not agree with the singular subject, as in the example below:
“Each child should take in their belongings after school.”
Never Split Infinitives A split infinitive separates a descriptive word from the verb. Rather than saying, “to sit quickly,” it says, “to quickly sit.” In the past, splitting infinitives was frowned upon, but today, it is left to the writer to determine which infinitive structure is appropriate case-by-case.
Proper Use of Whom A few grammar pendants still cling to the difference between who and whom, but increasingly, it is no longer relevant. Since the majority of people use “who” in all cases, using the formerly correct “whom” sounds needlessly pretentious.
No Sentence Fragments A sentence fragment does not contain a subject and a verb. Some writers use fragments to emphasize certain sentences. The use of fragments is stylistic, and usually acceptable in all but the most formal of writing styles (like your college writing class).
Always Use the Oxford Comma The Oxford comma has come under fire recently, with many grammar experts stating it is no longer necessary. Some countries have national rules on when the Oxford comma is appropriate. In the United States, the decision is completely up to the writer.
Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction In the past, starting a sentence with words like “but” or “and” was frowned upon, but it is so common now as to no longer be noteworthy or considered poor writing.
Avoiding Passive Voice The active voice is praised as the “strongest” form of writing, but in some cases, passive voice simply does the job better. The best time to use passive voice is when the actor in the sentence is not important (“the tomatoes can be harvested tomorrow”), or when the object of the sentence is more important than the subject (“the victim was struck with a crowbar”).
Are there any other grammar rules you believe are no longer relevant?
About the Author
Brenda Priddy is a freelance writer, book-lover, and grammar nerd; she’ll defend the Oxford comma to her dying day. Find more grammar and bookish content on her blog, Daily Mayo.