If you’re learning English, you’ve probably noticed that it comes with quite a few rules – and exceptions to those rules. But some rules can be broken altogether. Let’s break down five rules you can break and why. You might even notice some of these rules being broken in today’s post!
Rule #1: Never Begin a Sentence with And or But
One of the very first rules children learn in English classes is that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “and” or “but.” Beginning a sentence with a conjunction, though, isn’t grammatically incorrect. It can actually be a great way to make a sentence stand out or add a more informal, playful tone to your writing.
With that in mind, though, you may want to keep following this rule for formal writing. And when you do break it, do so sparingly so that those sentences have the desired impact.
Rule #2: Use Only Singular Pronouns for Individual People
Traditionally, when writing about a person, “he/him” and “she/her” were the only options for pronouns. If you weren’t sure of the person’s gender, you had to use “she/he” and “him/her.” This was required to follow pronoun agreement.
Now, “they” is perfectly acceptable – and encouraged in many cases! – when talking about an individual. If you need a generic pronoun that doesn’t limit a person’s gender, “they” and “them” are perfectly good options.
Rule #3: Never Write in Sentence Fragments
While complete sentences are ideal for formal and academic writing, sentence fragments have their place. In online copy and business writing, an occasional sentence fragment can add punch:
Your cats will thank you for these custom scratch pads. And your furniture!
Just make sure you don’t overuse them if you want them to be effective. Many style guides also allow for sentence fragments in bullet lists.
Rule #4: Never End a Sentence with a Preposition
The old English rule to “never end a sentence with a preposition” is outdated and needs to go. Following this rule makes many sentences sound clunky and awkward.
Prepositions indicate a spatial or dimensional relationship between words, such as where, when, or how something is happening. Some examples are above, before, on, toward, with, from, among, and in.
Following this rule, the below sentence would be incorrect:
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Who are you going with?
Grammar snobs might say it should be:
With whom are you going?
The truth is, both of these options are perfectly fine. But the second one sounds a bit stuffy and unnatural for a modern context. By all means, end your sentences with prepositions if they sound better!
Rule #5: Avoid Using Contractions
While it’s still probably a good idea to avoid using contractions in formal writing, we use contractions all the time in speech. So when writing informally, you should use them because it adds a natural, conversational tone. Your writing will mimic the way people actually talk.
Contractions are words formed by combining multiple words into one. For example:
You are → You’re
We will → We’ll
There is → There’s
Like we said, though, in formal writing, such as with academic papers, you should still avoid contractions.
We hope today’s post inspired your inner rebel to break out a little bit. Where appropriate, of course! But if you’re struggling with your writing in any way, we’ll be happy to help.
We can check your work to make sure all the correct rules are followed (or broken!) and make sure your grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and references are perfect. Submit a 500-word sample of your writing to try out our service for free!
What are some grammar rules that can be broken?
Ending a sentence with a preposition, starting a sentence with and or but, using contractions, writing in sentence fragments, and breaking pronoun agreement are (sometimes) acceptable in writing.
When should you use they/them pronouns in writing?
“They/them” is increasingly acceptable to use for individual people if you’re unsure of their gender or don’t want to assign one. “They/them” is also used when discussing multiple people.