Five Rules I Made Up

Here are five grammar rules you’re probably not going to find anywhere else, for a very good reason: I made them up. They’re neither official nor foolproof, but most of the time they work great for me.

1.  Avoid the word “reason.”

Of course “reason” is a useful and perfectly good word. But it often gums up sentences. Safe bet: Try rewriting the sentence without it.

Her reason for skipping church this morning was that she hadn’t slept well.  AWKWARD

She skipped church this morning because she hadn’t slept well.  BETTER

2.  Don’t start a sentence with “by.”

Good writers start sentences with “by” all the time. I do it too. But student writers tend to come up with something messy like this:

By going to bed early helped me feel rested for the big test.  WRONG

This version would be better:

By going to bed early, I felt rested for the big test.  BETTER

But why take a chance? Cross out “by” and rewrite the sentence:

Going to bed early helped me feel rested for the big test.  BETTER

3.  Avoid using more than three commas in a sentence.

In the real world there’s no limit to the number of commas you can use. But once you insert your fourth comma, you’re likely to have a complicated sentence.

And once a sentence gets complicated, there’s a good chance than an error or two will creep in. Keep your sentences simple.

4.  Avoid “being.”

 If “being” finds its way into one of your sentences, consider getting rid of it. It’s another word that often gums up a sentence.

I experienced many challenges while being a substitute teacher.  AWKWARD

Substitute teaching was a challenging experience for me.  BETTER

5.  Don’t let a comma touch the word “that.”

Any English teacher or professional writer reading this can probably come up with forty or fifty sentences with a comma next to “that” in no time at all. (I know this is true because I can do it myself.) I’m standing my ground, however.

Most of the time it’s wrong to put a comma right in front of – or in back of – that. This timesaving rule has saved me from many comma errors. 

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