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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shades of gray in grammar rules | Mark Abadi, The Daily Tar Heel

Abadi warns, correctly, about unquestioned belief in the famous Elements of Style by Strunk and White, noting some incorrect examples (of active voice) and some mythical rules of writing:
[T]he authors insist that we avoid split infinitives, and they consider ending a sentence with a preposition “bad grammar.”

But those supposed rules have no basis in the English language. As many sources can attest, the preposition rule was invented in 1672 by essayist John Dryden, who wanted English to conform more closely to the structure of Latin.
Similarly, there is nothing inherently unacceptable about split infinitives, other than the fact that they don’t occur in Latin.
But I think he overemphasizes the acceptability of breaking grammar rules and standards. Consistent use of widely accepted rules aids consistency and understanding for readers, who should be our highest priority as writers.

Rules do have a purpose; readers generally know what to expect, grammar-wise, and thus pay more attention to the content and less to how it's worded. But if the rule-breaking grabs their attention, they may miss the main point of the content in a sentence or paragraph. And worse, some readers may question the authority of the writer if the readers consider the rule-breaking to be poor writing.
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