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Folklore Rules In Writing

January 22, 2013

In his book Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, Joseph M. Williams talks about correctness in writing. Our work should not only be clear, but grammatically correct as well. And, of course, for us to have a correct writing, we need to keep certain grammatical rules. But unfortunately, according to Williams, “some grammarians have invented a handful of rules that they think we should observe—call them ‘Folklore’” (10). These are some of the folklore rules in writing:

  1.  Don’t begin sentences with and or but.
  2.  Use the relative pronoun that—not which—for restrictive clauses.
  3.  Use fewer with nouns you count, less with nouns you cannot.
  4.  Use since and while to refer only to time, not to mean because or although.

For the author these rules are not absolute: “When [we] violate these ‘rules,’ few careful readers notice, much less care. So they are not rules at all, but folklore [we] can ignore (unless [we] are writing for someone with the power to impose these rules on [us])” (11). There is another set of invented rules called Elegant Options:

  1. Don’t split infinitives.
  2. Use whom as the object of a verb or preposition.
  3. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
  4. Use the singular with none and any.

Like folklore, these rules are not fixed. However, for the sake of style and since these rules “create a slightly formal tone” to our writing, it is commendable that we observe them. But we should not be slaves to them.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2013 11:29 pm

    Amen! For my part, I hold that grammatical rules are a means to an end. That end is clear, coherent, and unambiguous communication. I try to limit grammatical errors as much as possible, but if a particular rule doesn’t suit that overarching purpose, I feel free to ignore it.

    But that’s just my opinion. 😉

    Michael Kearney
    West Sayville URC (member/musician)
    Long Island, New York

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