Forget Trump and Hillary, the Montagues and Capulets, the Hatfields and McCoys, there’s no better debate than a grammar debate. Grammar nerds like me cringe when sentences end with prepositions, when writers dare use like as a conjunction, and have definitive answers to the always-present Oxford comma question.
Grammar will always be an ongoing, internal, and external debate amongst writers, especially when it comes to the complicated, bewildering and sometimes illogical rules that only apply to our beloved English Language.
For me, grammatical critiques interrupt everyday activities: from texting with unassuming friends to dissecting poorly written advertisements.
This blog, however, is not about conventional grammar rules…
no no no.
The rules below come straight from a manuscript written by my favorite literature professor, Dr. Marsha Dutton, (aka- Dr. D.), from Ohio University – Go Bobcats!
A little bit about me: It’s safe to say I wasn’t exactly studious in school. I was, as some would say, a teacher’s pet. At Ohio University, I was lucky enough to have Dr. D. as both a professor and an advisor. We were close, chatted during her office hours while she introduced me to amazing Old English manuscripts and Middle English works: The Canterbury Tales, King Arthur, and more. When it comes to grammar, though, Dr. D. is anything but chummy or apathetic. On the first day of…I honestly don’t remember which class… Dr. D. introduced us to:
|A STYLE MANUAL|
|for academic writing |
The style guide is only 17 pages long but it packs a lot of punch.
Having been the presumptuous slacker that I was, I skimmed the short manuscript an hour before the test and failed epically.
Today, I refer to this guide while writing digital content. However, to quote Dr. D., herself:
“Keep in mind as you use it that many of the rules concern formal writing rather than dialogue, narrative poetry, drama, and so on.”
Without further ado, below are some of the most incredibly outrageous rules that you didn’t know you didn’t know.
This list is way beyond your standard, your, you’re; they’re their, there; oxford comma debates of yore.
Every piece of content below (except for the headlines) represent direct rules from Dr. D.’s style manual. Of 142 rules total, these are my favorite 10, and they are those which I believe relate the most to digital content writing. While the manual was intended to help with formal writing, it doesn’t hurt to keep them in mind while blogging, writing ads, love letters, tweets, poetry – anything! Read on:
1. I hope you reconsider the word, hopefully.
Hopefully is an adverb that means with hope. It does not mean I hope or it is hoped. Use it to say They got into the wagon hopefully, but not *Hopefully they will arrive safely. (Generally if you use this word with a future tense it will be wrong.)
2. Certain words are obviously arbitrary.
Don’t say it is obvious, obviously, or clearly, etc., in a formal paper. Either the point is or isn’t obvious; if it is, there’s no point in saying it, and if it isn’t, saying that it is won’t make it so (and will irritate your reader by begging the question).
3. Intensifiers are for amateurs.
Very, quite, rather, and other such adverbs are intensifiers in speech, but in writing they weaken the nouns they modify. Avoid them. Definitely works similarly, with the additional disadvantage of sounding over-eager, informal. Avoid all such intensifiers. And never say drastic or drastically in formal writing. Try great, severe, grave, significant . . . .
Even further, generally avoid both adverbs and adjectives in writing. To say that they modify other words is to say that they change those words. Rather than combining two weak words to express your idea, select one strong one. Consider the difference between really big and huge.
4. Know your numbers.
Spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words; otherwise use numerals. So fifty-six, but 124. But be consistent in a single paragraph; don’t mix the two forms. Choose one or the other.
5. Don’t be wordy.
Avoid wordiness and redundancy. Write she went rather than *she proceeded to go; because rather than *because of the fact that; three speakers addressed us rather than *there were three speakers who addressed us; he was a good man rather than *he proved to be a good man.
6. Make sure your verbs are as active as your ideas.
A verb in the passive voice contains a form of the verb to be (e.g., was, is, am, are, were, will be) plus a past participle: A verb that is formed in this way tends to be wordy and weak. Notice: a passive verb has two parts, which is to say at least two words. A passive clause has a subject and passive verb.
A verb is in the active voice when it is not in the passive. All the sentences below are in the active voice: Passive sentences produce weak and wordy papers. After the snow stopped falling, I took a hot bath, then read a book, sipped mulled cider, and dozed before a blazing fire. I had not realized how tired I was. For the first time in weeks I relaxed, just lying on the floor.
7. Do your research.
Research is a noun, not a verb. One does research into/about something rather than *researching it.
8. Stop trying to be unique.
Unique should be used as an equivalent to only, not to unusual, special, or remarkable. Thus nothing can be *very unique or *rather unique. Here is an example of the word used correctly: The earth’s unique moon is remarkable in its beauty. You are unique, as is each snowflake, but neither you nor the snowflake is probably particularly unusual.
9. Academics are people, too.
Academics are people who are engaged in academic endeavor. This place where we live and work is the academy; those who work with their minds within it are academics. We have academic pursuits and interests and lives, and we’re interested in academic matters and excellence, but none of those things is an academic. An academic is a person; the word in the plural always properly refers to people, not to academic activities.
It is not to be used as parallel to or in opposition to athletics. Proper parallels are athletes and academics or athletic concerns and academic concerns or athletics and scholarship. Television announcers and university websites always get it wrong, but you shouldn’t.
10. Just have fun.
Fun is a noun, not an adjective. That means that we can have fun but not *have a fun time. Do not modify nouns with fun, and don’t modify fun with an adverb (*the party was enormously fun).
Bonus: Know your pronouns.
Subjective pronouns [aka nominative pronouns] are I, we, you, he, she, it, they, and who. Use them as subjects of clauses and predicate nominatives (the pronouns complementing verbs of being): We ran; they ate; she and I sat sullenly; who is hungry? It is she; The passengers were he and his brother.
Objective pronouns are me, us, you, him, her, it, them, and whom. Use them as direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions. The house fell on me; dancing after us; give them the message; just between you and me; whom did she invite?
*Do not combine nominative and objective pronouns in phrases, as in *her and I or *between him and I. Use nominative with nominative (she and I ate) or objective with objective (between him and me).
While I will certainly send this article over to Dr. D to edit before posting it, please keep in mind that writers are artists, and most great artists become exceptional by breaking some rules. While I believe these tips make me a more polished, focused and, ultimately, better writer, every writer has his/her own style that he/she should embrace. Always be true to your style and in most cases, digital writing means writing the way you, or your client, speaks.
Special thanks to:
Dr. Marsha Dutton, for your selfless ambition to give students the tools to become incredible writers.
Dr. Paul Jones, (American Literature – Ohio University) who inspired this blog after an oxford comma debate where he shared these very special nuggets of wisdom:
For the record, after speaking with these two, I am officially pro-Oxford Comma… finally.