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     No matter what your fifth-grade English teacher says, some grammar "rules" no longer apply. The style mavens of our day all agree that the ability to communicate clearly and concisely takes precedence over archaic grammar rules. Here are seven rules you no longer need to chew your pencils over. Each rule is followed by a grammatically correct sentence.


1. Never split an infinitive.

    I want to carefully consider all of the options presented to me.

Following this rule all of the time will make your prose unnecessarily academic and stuffy. When it doubt, don't split the infinitive. But if splitting the infinitive conveys your meaning more clearly and concisely, split away.

2. Active verbs are always better than passive verbs.

    Jerry was robbed.  (The active alternative: Somebody robbed Jerry.)

Generally, active verbs are better. In the following cases, however, passive tense works just fine.

  • When you don’t want to mention who did it
  • When you don’t know who did it
  • When who did it is irrelevant
  • When the passive voice places the emphasis where you want it

3. Never start a sentence with a conjunction (and, or, but).

   And then he left, never looking back.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction can help transition from one idea to another or add a dramatic tone to a passage. If you start sentences this way too often, your paragraphs will sound like one long run-on sentence. Use conjunctions at the start of sentences judiciously.

4. Never start a sentence with there are or there is.

    There is no excuse for your behavior.

Sentences that begin with there are and there is are usually weak sentences in need of a stronger noun. But making a conscious decision to start a sentence this way to place emphasis on specific words is perfectly acceptable. "Your behavior is inexcusable" or "You have no excuse for your behavior" just don't sound as stern as the sentence above.

5. Never end a sentence with a preposition.

    What is he pointing at?

This holdover from the 18th century has no place in modern language. Imagine how stilted and formal our language would be if we followed this rule! According to Words into Type, Winston Churchill once said, "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put" in defense of the terminal preposition.

6. Always use more than instead of over with numbers.

   The relic is over 300 years old.

Over, more than and in excess of can all be used with numbers. Let your ear, rather than a rigid rule, be your guide.

7. Data is plural, so the verb must always be plural.

    The data proves his thesis.

Like several other plural words with Latin origins, data is now accepted as either singular or plural, as any up-to-date dictionary will confirm. When was the last time you heard someone use the word datum (the singular of data) in a sentence?


Need definitive proof that these rules are outdated? Check out these respected references.

Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Connor, 1996
   split infinitives, page 182
    active versus passive voice, page 187
    starting with a conjunction, page 184
    there is and there are, page 193
    ending with a preposition, page 183
    more than and over, page 189
    data as singular and plural, page 183

Words Into Type, 3rd edition, 1974
    split infinitives, page 386
    active versus passive voice, page 341
    there is and there are, page 355
    ending with a preposition, page 381
    more than and over, page 427

Elements of Style, Strunk and White, 3rd edition, 1979
split infinitives, page 78
    active versus passive voice, page 18
    ending with a preposition, page 77

Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition, 1993
split infinitives, page 76

Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, 1992
split infinitives, page 219
    more than and over, page 155
    data as singular and plural, page 44

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