Thursday, December 16, 2010

Safire's Satirical Grammatical Rules

This week, as I finish grading papers, I am reminded once again of William Safire’s helpful satirical survey of grammatical rules.[1] I have incorporated these into a file all students have access to, “Guidelines for Writing Papers at JP Catholic.” I love this.

Note carefully that each of the following breaks the rule it describes. 
  1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  2. Don't use no double negatives.
  3. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
  4. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
  5. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  6. No sentence fragments.
  7. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  8. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  9. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  10. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  11. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
  12. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  13. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
  14. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  15. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
  16. Don't use contractions in formal writing.
  17. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  18. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
  19. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
  20. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
  21. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  22. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  23. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  24. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
  25. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  26. Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  27. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  28. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'"
  29. The adverb always follows the verb. 

[1] Credited to William Safire, “On Language,” New York Times, November 4, 1979. 


peskemom said...

And one more, Michael: In, conclusion "This is something up with which I will NOT put!" :-)

Anonymous said...


I've heard your addition attributed to Winston Churchill.

As the story goes, he was angry that an editor had rearranged one of his sentences, to avoid having a preposition at the end.

Churchill sarcastically responded to the editor: "Ending sentences with prepositions is something up with which I will not put."

Figulus said...

Excellent points, all.

Yet I'm not sure that Safire succeeded with #25; it strikes me as neither awkward nor affected.

martha victor said...

The tips that you give are all good. It can help a certain student to improve their writing skills in English. Also, in that way, it may lead them in to a good writer who can write well in English language.

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