Posted tagged ‘prepositions’

Clear Communication Is the Key To Writing

April 13, 2009

strunkwhiteIn my inbox today, I found a message from CopyBlogger on a subject which interests me: Three Grammar Rules You Can (And Should) Break. In an article by Michelle Pierce, she encourages writers to question the rules which we have had beaten into us by our teachers and others who happen to be well-versed in the written word and applicable grammar rules.

1. Ending a sentence with a preposition

I have no idea where this rule came from. What I do know is that many people, in an effort to keep from ticking off the Grammar Police, start twisting their sentences around so as not to end them with prepositions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the new syntax is terribly awkward and painful to read. Take the first sentence of this section, for example. “From where this rule came” sounds like something Yoda would say, not me. A big part of blogging is showing your personality through words. How can you do that when you’re twisting your phrases to suit some archaic rule?

In the interest of clarity and readability, it’s quite all right to end a sentence with a preposition.

Did you get that? “In the interest of clarity and readability…” That means it’s okay to write (or say), “Where y’all from?” I remember a Designing Women episode in which MaryJo posed that question to a woman with whom she shared an elevator. The woman replied, “We are from somewhere where we know not to end a sentence with a preposition.”

Without missing a beat, MaryJo rephrased her question, “Where y’all from, bitch?”

Although I will usually let a preposition at the end of a sentence or question slide, my blood pressure and rockets skyward when I hear the preposition “at” as an ending: “Where you at?” or “Where do you work at?”

2. Beginning a sentence with “and” or “but”

Somebody, somewhere, once decided that you shouldn’t begin sentences with conjunctions. Maybe it was an overzealous teacher who thought her students were doing it too much. My guess is that it was frustrated mothers who got sick and tired of hearing their children start every single sentence with “But Mo-om!”

The rule even got screen time in the movie Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery and Rob Brown have an entire conversation about it (and deliberately start their sentences with the offending words in order to make their points).

Regardless of how it began, you don’t have to stick with it. It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to grab attention and emphasize a point. But, as in all things, take it in moderation.

I completely agree with the breaking of this rule. Both “But” and “And” are transitional words which form a bridge to thoughts conveyed in the previous paragraph. A journalism professor once explained to the class that it is acceptable to use transition words like these at the beginning of a paragraph. And that’s what I tend to do on a regular basis.

But that does not mean that the writer should begin an article or post using those words.

3. Splitting infinitives

How often have you heard that you’re not allowed to let another word come between “to” and its verb? Some people hold that construction with the same reverence as is typically given to marriage: that which the writer hath wrought together, let no man tear asunder.

Except that it’s really not that big of a deal. Come on: “to go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go.” If it sounds better to split the infinitive, then take an axe to it!

Don’t cling to the ancient rules just because your high school English teacher told you to. Be a rebel and break free of these nonsensical shackles!

Though I usually try to adhere to the grammatical rules I have been taught while both speaking and writing, sometimes this rule is appropriate to break. “Boldly to go” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go…”

Though our English teachers would like us to think that all these rules were handed down to Moses like The Ten Commandments, they were not. And except for a few self-important grammarians, most people understand that sometimes rules can be broken…or at least bent!

The important thing is for what you have written to convey the intended message with as little chance of misinterpretation as possible.

How ’bout it?

The Communications Factors: Biz Writing

October 5, 2007

I got an email this morning regarding the tips on writing for business. I agree with the majority of the article. The main point was that in order to write an effective business letter or email, the writer needs to keep it short and sweet. I will never forget what one of my journalism professors said: “Words are expensive.” He was referring to the importance of being able to take a story of 1000 words and edit it down to 800 without losing any of the meaning. I guess that’s why I strive for concise words which convey a powerful meaning.


The first point of the article was that the writer should abstain from “unfamiliar” words. The examples given were ascertain, consummate, and peruse. Certainly one should shy away from those words in a business letter, but I don’t think they are necessarily “unfamiliar.” Remember, when writing to a group of businessmen or women, just because you don’t pull out all the stops of your command of the English language doesn’t mean that you are writing as though your audience is composed of idiots. In fact, my mentor, Jay Deragon, has a powerful presence in the Relationship Economy and is probably smarter than I am, but reading his blog posts is sometimes painful. My strength is being able to write clear and concise text; Jay’s strength is having the ability to grasp complex, abstract strategies and implement them into the emerging technologies of this world.

Many of those who commented on the article disagree. They said to refrain from “unfamiliar” and long words was to “dumb down” the English language. However, I believe there is a time and place for the display of your inherent sesquipedalian qualities. There is nothing which loses readers, thereby decreasing your “stickiness” on the ‘net, faster than having to find a dictionary to look up an unfamiliar word. The time to employ erudite, tedious loquacity is college entrance essays, not in business correspondence. Many of the MBAs of the world have excellent vocabularies but don’t use them because they are not out to impress anyone. It does, however, impress people when you are able to convey a complex subject without unnecessary use of commas, or words which might give pause to the reader.

If the writer doesn’t restrain himself from utilizing grandiose verbiage and punctuation, then, he is drawing attention to his inexperience or his over-elevated sense of self-importance. The most dire consequence is for the reader to think, “What a pompous ass!”

I will continue on this vein in future posts.

How ’bout it?

The Communications Factors: Online, On-Line, or On Line.

October 2, 2007


The debate between the correct use of Online, On-Line and On Line is perplexing, to say the least. In an earlier post, we started to shed some light onto this subject, but since that time, we have discovered what The AP Stylebook says on the issue.

on-line Hyphate the adjective form for the computer connection term; two words in other cases.

So the Reader’s Digest cover to which I refer is correct, under the authority of the AP Stylebook. Without doing any further research other than what was on the on-line, I assumed that Craig Battrick’s blog entry was correct since he cited the Chicago Manual of Style.

Here’s a suggestion. When you are writing on line, on paper, or on any other medium, use spacing and hyphens to tell readers you are using a newly minted modifier or that you are “pre-positioning” a noun.

I think the word “online” has become popularized when people started sending quick emails and text messages a dozen or more times a day. For phrases like be right back or business to business, there needed to be a “code,” if you will, indicating what was intended. An index of text messaging acronyms can be found here.

I think the debate about the “correct” form of on line/on-line/online will rage on, but it’s more important for you to remain consistant.

HBI (How ’bout it?)

What’s the Difference Between Online and On-Line?

September 8, 2007

 Having taken this week editing and rewriting information about the Relationship Economy, I was posed with the challenge devouring writings of social networking strategist Jay Deragon. Jay is brilliant and is a fantastic researcher, but an English major, he is not. One of the problems with the information Jay sent me was his use of “on line,” “on-line” and “online” as though they are interchangeable.


If you don’t know the difference between the two options, you’re not alone. As Craig Battrick reports on his website, even the editorial team at Readers’ Digest has problems with that same issue. In the November 1999 issue, there was the “teaser” on the front cover which read, “Surprising Things You Can Do On-Line.”

Huh? What’s wrong with that? Well first you should consider the three options: on line, on-line, and online. Battrick writes, “The first is a prepositional phrase. The second is a compound adjective. The third is a simple adjective derived from the second, compound form. The Reader’s Digest cover designers used a compound adjective where they should have used a prepositional phrase.”

In essence, “on line” is a prepositional phrase. Just like “on a bicycle” or “on time.” Therefore, to learn what the ‘net offers, you need to go “on line.” However, if you are already there, you are considered “on-line.”

I contend that the word “online” has come into use during the era of text messages and quick emails on-line. So if you’re concerned about whether to use a space, a hyphen, or just stick the two words together, just see if you can substitute another word, like paper, the table, or time, and still make sense.

A printer is considered online, except when it goes off-line. The major Dot Coms are on-line. There is a vast amount of information “on line.”

The correct use of  on line, on-line, and online is rather like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s thoughts about pornography: “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

How ‘bout it?

What Are You Thinking About?

August 31, 2007

At the risk of having a dangling preposition in this question, which might prevent some grammarians from reading reading this post, I invite you to just watch the video!

How ’bout it?