Here’s a helping of that abuse I talked about in Rules:
Don’t use fragments! Don’t use “I” in essays!
Don’t use “you” either. Or “we” while we’re at it.
It’s improper to split your infinitive: try to not ever split it.
Contractions, forget ’em!
And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Nor should you end a sentence with a preposition–that’s an
offense up with which we will not
Use which to introduce non-essential (parenthetical) relative clauses
and that to introduce essential ones.
These aren’t really rules and in most of what I read–fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, dramas, essays, and in many many scholarly essays (not all)–these ‘rules’ would be wrong. Where do they come from then, besides highschool teachers that don’t write professionally and don’t notice what’s going on in what they read?
They, these “rules,” make sense in certain cases: very formal essays, or in scientific writing that’s trying to sound non-human, or in legal writing that doesn’t want to sound too informal, or with beginning writers that want to sound formal or pedantic, in order to be taken seriously, and so on. In such cases, such prescriptions have their place, but only relative to certain situations, audiences, purposes. They sure as hell aren’t rules.
And they are bogus, false, when they are made
Before you shake them all off, though, here’s some wherefores about them:
Sentence fragments — “Never write a sentence fragment.”
Nonsense! Just know what you’re doing when you do use a fragment. Stylistically, fragments are very nice. They speed things along. Slow things down, too:
To be or not to be–that is the question. Whether t’is nobler in the mind to take up the whips and arrows of outrageous fortune or with a bare bodkin end them. Etc, etc. That whole long thing is a fragment, depending for its meaning on the sentence just in front of it. That’s what most fragments will do. Or the sentence right after it. Depend. On.
I, you, we — “Don’t use the first person; and avoid the pronoun you.”
We’ve all heard it, usually in highschool. Never say I or we in your paper. That way, one can write lovely stiff constructions like The reader is made to feel or It is the opinion of this writer that… or It is the opinion of some scholars, and this student of those scholars heartily agrees, that…
If that’s what floats your boat, go for it, I guess. To me it sounds like R2-D2 beeping into a voice box.
Just know your audience and what your purpose is. Everything but the most formal discourse uses I and we, and even there sometimes. As for you, it can come as a bit of shock nestled into formal prose:
If you study cancer long enough, you will discover that it is not one disease but a large group….
When you’ve been a rock star for most of your life, you sometimes can’t bear it not to be in the lime light. ==> Famous rock stars sometimes can’t bear to step out of the lime light.
to split or to not split — “Don’t split infinitives.”
Infinitives are forms of the verb that don’t have any time attached to them (no tense), and are usually indicated by the marker to . To be, or maybe not to be, or, what if the bard had said, To be
or to not be–there’s more than one question here.
So you wind up “splitting” these suckers if you insert anything between the to and the verb it belongs to. In most Indo-European languages you can’t do this: haben, hacer, avoir, avere, to have.
Since you can’t do it in most, purists arugued that you shouldn’t do it in English. Further, in constructions using it to refer to the infinitive: to sing was all she ever wanted; it was all she ever did… in this construction the it refers to the infinitive used as a noun, and if you split that infinitive, you’re messing up your noun, making it too ambiguous, violating its integrity: to never ever sing was wrong, but it was preferable in her case.
And not content with that, these rigorists then say it’s ok to split a past tense or passive voice infinitive, one that uses to be or to have: to have never broken any rules, to be perfectly understood,
underscoring the offending adulterant there. Can you tell we’re in Hogwash, USA?
What to do about grandmothers and retired highschool principals that wax nasty over these splits?
Humor ’em. Throw ’em a contraction maybe.
contractions — “Avoid contractions.”
In all but the most formal prose, you’ll see contractions. College papers…generally fine to use ’em.
I mean, are we really saying you have to write do not and cannot for don’t and can’t? One wonders about o’clock. It is three of the clock and I cannot for the life of me imagine where she is at.
Next time you’re in a university library, pull out some Ph.D. dissertations in literature and anthropology, say, and see if there are no contractions.
conjunctions — “Don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction.”
That’s actually blasphemous, that rule. If you’re not supposed to take God’s name in vain, how on earth is it right to correct his usage?
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and said maybe it’s ok to use a conjunction here and there to get thee going. And Joseph said phew. And then he said, God, do you think Shakespeare really wrote all those plays? But God, he was resting by then, fitfully. And then he said, Let the light be off.
So a conjunction is one of those common-as-house-flies little words that join sentence elements, whether they’re whole clauses, or just phrases or even single words. The callico cat and the gingham dog.
To be or not to be. When these words join equal elements–two nouns, two prepositional phrases, two independent clauses–they are said to co-ordinate the elements. The two would balance on a scale, gramatically. They have the same ordination within the sentence(s). And here they are:
and, but, for, or, nor, yet
There are other conjunctions that join unequal elements, one subordinated to the other, like:
if, whether, although, even+as,though,if
We sat down to dinner although we were wet. Run if you can. We didn’t like what she said even though she said it sweetly.
Subordinate conjunctions: the stuff following the conjunction is subordinate to the stuff not introduced by the conjunction. If you can, get the hell out of here.