Tag Archives: grammar

Completely agree with Weird Al…except for the split infinitive at 3.27 #wordcrimes

Fumblerules of grammar

I’ve actually blogged about this list before, but didn’t know its provenance (or have the full quota) until I came across an entry on it via the excellent LISTS OF NOTE:

Late-1979, New York Times columnist William Safire compiled a list of “Fumblerules of Grammar” — rules of writing, all of which are humorously self-contradictory — and published them in his popular column, “On Language.” Those 36 fumblerules can be seen below, along with another 18 that later featured in Safire’s book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.

Trivia: Safire previously worked as a speechwriter and was, in 1969, responsible for penning Nixon’s thankfully unused and incredibly chilling, “IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER” speech.

(Source: Maximum Awesome; Image: William Safire in 1968, courtesy ofNYTimes.)

  1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  2. A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
  3. The passive voice should never be used.
  4. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  5. Don’t use no double negatives.
  6. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
  7. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
  8. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  9. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  12. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  13. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  14. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  15. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
  16. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  17. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  18. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  19. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
  20. Write all adverbial forms correct.
  21. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
  22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  23. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
  24. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  25. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
  26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  27. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  28. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  29. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  30. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
  31. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  32. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  33. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  34. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.”‘”
  35. The adverb always follows the verb.
  36. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.
  37. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  38. Employ the vernacular.
  39. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  40. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  41. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  42. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  43. One should never generalize.
  44. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  45. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  46. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  47. Be more or less specific.
  48. Understatement is always best.
  49. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  50. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  51. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  52. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  53. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  54. capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with a point

Stanley Fish’s five favourite sentences

In his new book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, literary critic, legal scholar, and New York Times online columnist Stanley Fish offers readers a guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language. As an introduction to both sentence craft and sentence appreciation, it is—in novelist Adam Haslett’s words—”both deeper and more democratic” than Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, celebrating everything from brief epigrams to twisty, rambling digressions.

Fish describes how he carries sentences with him “as others might carry a precious gem or a fine Swiss watch.” Accordingly, Brow Beat asked Professor Fish for some of his favorite accoutrements, and he offered five from across three centuries:

John Bunyan (from The Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678): “Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began crying after him to return, but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! eternal life.”

Bunyan makes us feel the cost paid by someone (anyone) who turns his back on the human ties that bind and surrenders to the pull of a glory he cannot even see.

Jonathan Swift (from A Tale of a Tub, 1704): “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how  much it altered her appearance for the worse.”

Swift forces us into a momentary fellowship (“you will hardly believe”) with a moral blindness we must finally reject.

Walter Pater (from The Renaissance, 1873): “To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our lives fines itself down.”

The prose enacts Pater’s lesson, teasing us repeatedly with the promise of clarity and stability of perception before depositing us on a last word (“down”) that points to further dissolution and fragmentation.

Ford Madox Ford (from The Good Soldier, 1915): “And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars.”

In this sentence, the personal voice of the narrator is absorbed by the sea sounds (a deliberate pun) that began as background and end by taking over the scene of writing.

Gertrude Stein (from Lectures in America, 1935): “When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had commas and semi-colons to do with it what had commas to do with it what had periods to do with it what had small letters and capitals to do with writing going on which was at the time the most profound need I had in connection with writing.”

Stein manages to defeat linear time by a circular pattern of repetition that arrests movement even as it moves forward.


DISCLAIMER – I’m not sure I like/agree with the summaries at the end of those sentences. They’re a bit wordy and tend to the obfuscatory. And that last one misses the point entirely, I mean, “defeat linear time”? Humbuggery.

ps – if I had to pick a favourite from those, it would be the one by Ford Madox Ford.
(Via Slate)