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  • Writer's pictureEllen Gardner

No hard and fast rule

You would probably be hard pressed to remember the names of your elementary and high school teachers. But when it comes to their odd and persnickety grammar rules, 25, 30, even 40 years later, those rules stay permanently implanted in our brain.

Should some of those rules be consigned to obsolescence? Yes, definitely. Like the one that says never start a sentence with conjunctions like And, But or Because. There was a time in the 19th century when students overused conjunctions as sentence starters and their teachers moved aggressively to correct that tendency.

While conjunctions can effectively join independent clauses in a sentence – “I was looking forward to the beach, but it rained all day” – they can also create two independent sentences that have more punch – “I was looking forward to the beach. But it rained all day.”

Another old standby is the rule against using contractions – we’re, I’m, we can’t. It’s not just our teachers who fall on their sword with this one; many employers insist on the formal style.

There are wide differences of opinion as to whether it’s better to say Jan 4 or Jan 4th. I like the simplicity of Jan 4 but they’re both correct.

The mere fact that those rules were drummed into us at an early age is something to respect. At least there were rules! I’ve come to see the beauty in some of these time-honoured standards. Just like the way I love my old washing machine and dishwasher. I hope they never give up the ghost and I wish the same for these rules.

We’re fortunate to be living in times when you can pretty much follow your own rules. It’s good to know the rules, and then decide if you want to ignore them. Follow your own book and thank those teachers who cared enough to insist you don’t mangle the Queen’s English!


Do you have a grammar rule you’ve lived by since your school days, even when challenged on it? Maybe the Oxford comma is one of those. Tell me about it and I’ll ask the group for their thoughts.

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