Tuesday 17 January 2017

Things you were taught at school that are wrong

I recently came across this article on the interwebs, talking about the things you learned about writing and the English language, which are actually just plain wrong.

These things included:

  1. You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction
  2. You can’t end a sentence with a preposition
  3. Put a comma when you need to take a breath
  4. To make your writing more descriptive, use more adjectives

Forgive me if you weren't taught these things. Maybe it's a South African thing, but I remember learning every one of them. And they are, in fact, just plain wrong.

The reason why I say they're wrong is this: There are no "rules" in the English language. There are what you might call "guidelines", yes, but no rules. This is because English is and has always been constantly evolving, and (unlike, say, French) there is no official body governing its usage.

You should probably start sentences with conjunctions, end them with prepositions, and use adverbs sparingly, because of the images they conjure up in a reader's mind. But in my books, I've done all of those things and more.

Remember, writing (particularly fiction, but to a lesser extent, any kind of writing) is all about making the reader feel something, so if there were any "rules" in English, I would say those rules are all about thinking carefully about the reader's expectations of what is "correct", and the emotion you want to create in the reader's mind.

"No rules in English, you say? Tell that to thesis moderators!"

Well, let me elaborate a bit on that "rule":

When you're writing for an audience, it's important to think carefully about that audience's expectations. If you give them something blatantly contrary to their expectations of what is "correct", your actual message will be lost on them - which in the case of a thesis or other academic paper, may result in a fail, and in the case of a work of fiction, may result in a negative review or even a refund.

Unless you're deliberately trying to be ironic. But if that's the case, you need to make sure it's clear that's what you're doing (without actually saying so, of course - it's an art). And bear in mind, humour is difficult to convey and many people just don't "get" irony under any circumstances.

What do you think? Did you get taught any of these "rules" when you were in school? What other ones can you think of?

"Don't split infinitives" comes to mind, too. I remember hearing that one, years ago, and it used to be quite popular. I haven't heard it in a while, though - Stars Trek broke it, to spectacular effect; I think that's many of its proponents up!

I'm sure similar things will happen to all the other rules on this list, given a few years/decades....

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