You thought you knew the rules

How many rules of grammar and English do you think you know? The chances are that there are many you assume to be true but which are in fact complete nonsense.

Yesterday I was giving a hand at my daughter’s school, where the “A” level class has to write an article as if it were for the national press (they’ve picked the Guardian as their model). So I asked: if I spell ‘organise’ with an ‘ize’ on the end, is that British or American? They all said American.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t agree.  It has “organise” as a variant and “organize” as the main way of spelling (12th edition, feel free to check up on me). Nevertheless, as I type this into WordPress, the system is highlighting “organize” as a spelling error.

The actual answer, I suspect, is that if your employer or client demands ‘ise’ and they’re paying the money, that’s what they should get. That’s what I’ll be telling a new client of the Henshall Centre  later this week.

People think they know all sorts of correct English and grammar and it’s often incorrect. And yet they amend other people’s copy, not because of house style but through thinking their version is right. Here are some examples:

  • Never use a conjunction (“and”, “but”, “because”) to begin a sentence. Now look at the middle sentence of the last paragraph – did it make sense? By all means don’t use the construction often, but using it occasionally is fine.
  • It is wrong in text to write figures for one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and to spell out from eleven onwards. Uh-uh, that’s about house styles and consistency.
  • A sentence must have a subject, verb and object. Many do. But “Many do” didn’t have an object. “Help!” is also a sentence.
  • I before E except after C: don’t get me started. Look at feign, weight, foreign, forfeit, vein…some people say it works when the sound is “ee”. If they tell you that, offer them a coffee and ask how they spell “caffeine”. This frequently quoted rule is baloney.
  • Never split an infinitive – and this in the week that a new version of Star Trek is on Netflix, reminding us all of the phrase “To boldly go where no-one has gone before”!

There are better ways of improving your writing than learning rules by rote. Contact the Henshall Centre, through which I offer my writing courses, for more information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *