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Infographic: 15 Grammar Rules You Learned in School That You Can Break With Impunity

For the most part invented by people who were toilet-trained too early, the rules of grammar for the English language try to make sense of a language where read and lead rhyme, and read and lead rhyme, but not read and lead. (I couldn’t resist, sorry!)

Rules are great and all, but the important thing about rules is knowing which ones you can break. The following infographic details fifteen rules you can break, and when.

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Richard Hershberger 24 September, 2019 um 11:18 am

It really is more useful to understand why these are "rules" in the first place. This helps to understand when, or if, to follow them and when to ignore them. To wit:

Rules 1,2,8, 11, 12, and 14 are bullshit rules. They never were actual rules of real English. They were made up and used as cudgels against people who hadn’t gotten the memo, or who got it and sensibly decided to ignore it.

6, 9, & 15: Formal sentence structure is never the standard for dialogue. Criticizing a writer because the characters speak in colloquial English would be just plain stupid. I’m not saying it hasn’t been done, but this merely means that the complainer isn’t the sharpest: from the butter knife drawer, not the steak knives. Also, neither example sentence in 6 is a fragment.

3: If the rule is to know the difference between "who" and "whom," I absolutely support it. If you are a writer, you should know this stuff. That being said, for present-day English you are nearly always safe using "who" outside of very formal prose. But if you write, for example historical fiction, you absolutely need to know when to use which.

7: This is also a distinction of American versus British English. British English treats collective nouns as plural: "The team are…" So unless you are directing the discussion only to Americans, this gets confused very quickly.

5: This is a complete mess. "In to" in "Breaking in to steal the jewels" is pretty much entirely unlike a verb phrase, beginning with the absence of an actual verb. Rather, "Breaking in" is an intransitive phrasal verb, and "to steal the jewels" a prepositional phrase complementing the phrasal verb. "Into" in "Breaking into the museum" is simply a preposition, with "into the museum" being a prepositional phrase.

More to the point, mixing these up will absolutely get you called out, by anyone prone to such things and reasonably competent at it. "Breaking into steal the jewels" is simply terrible, and wrongety wrong wrong. Were I editing this, I would absolutely correct it. Were someone else editing this and let it pass, I would cringe. Were this unedited prose, it would be a huge check mark against it when considering "Is this otherwise good enough to make the lack of editing tolerable?"

What is really going on here is that English has a long-term trend going back centuries to combine words into compounds, but it isn’t done willy-nilly. Or rather, the trend toward doing it willy-nilly is not so far along that it isn’t an error.

13: This is not and never has been a rule of grammar. Rather, it is a matter of style, where some publication or publisher wants to be consistent. So it is not in any sense ungrammatical to use a numeral for a number under ten, or to spell out higher numbers. It may be contrary to the house style manual, but that is a different topic.

Bonus rule 2: Yes, but… There also is a completely standard noun "affect" and a completely standard verb "effect." These are less common uses, but simply stating that "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun is inadequate.


Ros Jackson 3 October, 2019 um 2:14 pm

Bonus rule #3 can get in the sea. There are plenty of archaic words, but language evolves for good reasons.


Rules to break | Making Book 5 October, 2019 um 11:03 am

[…] infographic was sent by The Digital Reader, and created by The Expert Editor, an Australian editing […]


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