I SHOULD MENTION PRIOR: I DO REALIZE THIS IS A JOKE.
Please be advised: This post contains strong language.
I heard a lot of these “rules” from my high school English teachers – and they were serious, despite this being an ironic joke about said “rules”. To these teachers, some (if not all) of these rules were not a joke. What I’m aiming to cover here are why you should never, never, take them seriously.
I’ve covered eight of the above ten topics above: things you can tell your teachers and call their bluff on if they try to actually tell you any of these.
1) Why should we avoid alliteration? It’s been used for millenia to stress specifics the writer wants you to notice. Additionally, we’re going to simply say that we should avoid tactics some of the best authors used? For example, in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven he writes, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before..” (Poe). Alliteration is a useful literary tool not only for poetry but for any creative writing. I can see how it may be confusing in journalism or academic writing of various sorts, but for 90% of the writing you’ll do in your life? Use it. Why the fuck not?
2) “Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.” First of all, we all end sentences with prepositions in daily conversations. Daily conversation is in the realm of “descriptive grammar,” or informal grammar. Prescriptive grammar is formal and used in academic papers, academic speeches, etc. Most of us use descriptive grammar on a daily basis. Here are a few examples of sentences ending in prepositions (I’ve bolded simple prepositions) that you probably use often:
- “I honestly have no idea what I’m up against.”
- “You did this before.”
- “They’ll get along.”
Many of these “don’t dos” are simply descriptive grammar tactics. Many writers use them for dialect and descriptive conversational speech throughout a text (see also: ad copy).
3) “The passive voice is to be avoided.” I’m not even sure why this is a rule? The passive voice is, indeed, sometimes infuriating and it gives the writer the chance to detach their person from an event. We see politicians using the passive voice often. Let’s take a closer look at what actually transforms the active voice to the passive voice.
- The direct object becomes the subject
- A form of be is added as an auxiliary; it joins the past participle of the main verb.
- The original agent, if mentioned, becomes the object of the preposition by or sometimes for.
(Source of above bullets: Kolln, Martha, and Loretta S. Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. Boston: Longman, 2010. Print. : page 44)
As an example, an active voice sentence would be:
“My roommate wrote the play.”
An example of this same sentence in the passive voice would be:
“The play was written by my roommate.”
Sometimes, the passive voice forces a reader to place stress on specific parts of a sentence. As a writer, we have to think about where we want to place stress – because, unfortunately, we can’t place stress by vocally emphasizing something like we do in conversation.
An example of a passage where a sentence is used passively to denote specific stresses is:
“Every year since 1901, scientists, artists, and peacemakers from around the world have received the Nobel Prize for helping humanity. This award was founded by Alfred Nobel, the creator of dynamite and and other explosives.”
The last sentence is in the passive voice because the direct object (the “award”) becomes the subject. In this case, it allows the reader to focus on the fact that the writer is simply describing where the award started, and not on the creator himself (this is part of the new-known contract).
4) “Avoid cliches like the plague. They’re old hat.” I agree, many cliches are overused – but when a writer really wants to convey a common bit of knowledge in a way that might also convey wit/humor/happiness/etc., why not use a cliche? It could certainly be worse.
5) “It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.” This is so silly. Basically, if you’re not sure what an infinitive is (or a split infinitive) it’s when an adverb breaks up a phrase (infinitive) like “to go.” Although, if no one ever split an infinitive, we wouldn’t have one of the most popular phrases in American culture (from the opening sequence of the Star Trek series): “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Bolded is the split infinitive. According to “prescriptive grammar,” one would need to rewrite this sentence thus: “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” It is certainly not as exciting as it was before. In fact, it’s downright boring.
6) “Writers should never generalize.” Let’s cover the known-new contract, shall we? The known-new contract is a “simple but powerful concept that reflects one aspect of reader expectation – that a sentence will have both known, or old, information as well as new and that the known information will precede the new.” (Source: Kolln, Martha, and Loretta S. Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. Boston: Longman, 2010. Print. : page 84). In this case, clearly, you will find yourself generalizing (see also: simplifying, often misunderstood for generalizing). Or should I be replacing “it” with the actual pronoun phrase when I’m referencing, say, a song by Tchaikovsky? No, that’s going to take forever. And even if you are actually generalizing and not just simplifying (two things commonly mixed up in “rules” like this) so what? We need generalizations.
7) “Be consistent.” This doesn’t even make sense. What if you’re writing a short story and you need to write about two different character views including their thoughts and emotions? It will not be consistent. But so what? We’re not all journalists here.
8) “Don’t use more words than necessary. It’s highly superfluous.” Again, this is almost strictly reserved to journalism. This concept should NEVER apply to all writing across all spectrums. This assumption that you shouldn’t “use too many words” is part of the reason writers are so damn self-conscious.
Nine and ten are so hilariously obvious that I would hope no teacher would EVER fucking use those in a classroom in all seriousness. If they do, just say to them, “Do you actually realize what you’ve just said? Because…” Obviously all statements are hypocritical, but the last two are so obviously so that it should be clear to your teachers.
But there are some teachers out there who shouldn’t be teachers, who think that their rules are the only rules, and that everything they say needs to be taken 100% seriously. I had some amazing high school teachers; I also had some teachers that had no idea how to be people to their students.
Make your case. You have the knowledge to do so.