This is my last discussion of a provocative article by Bill Murphy, Jr., about writing mistakes.
16. Double negatives
Murphy reminds us that people often use double negatives jokingly: “I don’t got none.” I wouldn’t have included this reminder in the list. Almost everyone I know has a sense of humor and can spot a joke when they hear one.
17. Confusing habits with rules
I would have reworded this one. Here’s my version: “Don’t be taken in by urban legends about English.” There are lots of nonsensical rules: Don’t start a sentence with but. Don’t split infinitives. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
You won’t find any of these stupid rules in reputable grammar books. Professional writers ignore them, and you should too.
One More Thing!
I think Murphy’s title is a mistake: “17 Grammar Mistakes You Need to Stop Correcting, Like Now.”
A strict grammarian would say that two things are wrong here: You should spell out a number (Seventeen instead of 17) at the beginning of a title or a sentence. And “Like Now” is too folksy for an article about – of all things – correct grammar.
I’m not a strict grammarian. My response is…pish-posh. I like to see writers run a red light once in a while!
My problem is the @#%&! word grammar. Grammar should be reserved for rules that explain how to put a sentence together. (A close synonym would be syntax.) Far too many people believe that if you master the rules of grammar, you’ll be a great writer. That’s not true.
Many important issues lie outside of grammar: word choice, capital letters, and many punctuation rules, for starters.
Most of Murphy’s rules fall into the category of usage – writing practices that 1) are subject to change over time and 2) don’t alter the structure of a sentence.
Don’t waste your precious time learning how to diagram sentences and label parts of speech! Be careful with usage, and you’ll see a big improvement in your writing.