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Sample Business Essay,
>> Is Following the Rules. Tripping Up Your Message?
Will the sky fall if you end a sentence with a preposition? Will
time stop if you split an infi nitive? No, of course not.
In fact, your most sophisticated readers won't even bat an eye.
And it's not because they've become so accustomed to the
shortcuts and improvisations of e-mail that they don't notice
when someone breaks a rule. They still notice, all right. It's
just that they know that some "rules" aren't rules at all-and
These nonrules are known as "superstitions" among the grammar
and usage set, and they may be preventing your writing
from being as strong, direct, and effective as it can be. Here
are the four most common ones:
1. Never end a sentence with a preposition. This is one of the
most enduring of superstitions, despite centuries of commentary
trying to dispel it.
The origins of this bugaboo lie in etymology and the origins of
English grammar, explains Bryan A. Garner, widely respected
language authority and author of the excellent A Dictionary of
Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 1998).
In Latin, preposition means "stand before," and in Latin, a
preposition does indeed stand before other words; it's the one
part of speech that can't end a Latin sentence.
But English is not Latin. Although English grammar is modeled
on Latin grammar, the languages are very different, and some
rules just don't translate well.
Criticized for ending a sentence with a preposition, Winston
Churchill is said to have quipped, "That is the type of arrant
pedantry up with which I shall not put." As this absurdly
stilted sentence demonstrates, the syntactical contortions
necessary to keep a sentence ending preposition-free result
in awkward, turgid prose-not the best vehicle for your
2. Never split an infi nitive. The fact is, some infi nitives beg to
be split. Consider this sentence: Our CEO expects to more than
double revenues this year.
Try rewriting it so as to eliminate the split infi nitive; there's no
way to do it without losing the precise meaning of the original.
Here is another example: We are trying to immediately solve
any customer-service problems that arise.
Transposing to and immediately changes the meaning-immediately
now modifi es are trying. Placing immediately after solve
makes the sentence stilted. And moving immediately to the
end of the sentence is no good, because there it appears to
With split infi nitives, the best bet is to steer a middle course.
If you can avoid a split infi nitive without altering meaning,
introducing ambiguity, or interrupting fl ow, you should do so,
3. Never begin a sentence with and or but. Go ahead and do
it-you'll be in good company. The Oxford English Dictionary
cites sentences beginning with and that date back to the 10th
A scholar in the 1960s, says Garner, studied the work of topfl
ight writers-H.L. Mencken and Lionel Trilling among them-
and found that nearly 9% of their sentences began with and or
but. Garner's own research has turned up similar results.
Some writers substitute however for but at the beginning of
a sentence, believing that by so doing they're hewing to the
grammatical line. What they're doing is stalling the progress
of their prose. But at the beginning of a sentence keeps things
zipping nicely along, while however-followed by its obligatory
comma-is a verbal speed bump, jarring the reader and slowing
4. Never write a one-sentence paragraph. Varied paragraph
length, like varied sentence length, is a hallmark of a skilled
stylist. Writing a one-sentence paragraph is an excellent way to
grab the reader's attention or emphasize an important point.
Just don't overdo it.
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