Posts Tagged ‘Style guide’

When NOT to Follow the Rules

August 23, 2012 2 comments

Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Even grammar rules.
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I’m a rule-follower by nature—and a compulsive reader on top of that. Combine those two traits and you have someone that knows rules that a good portion of the population don’t know exist and religiously follows them.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But you get my point. I don’t intentionally break rules. But sometimes we must. We need to know when NOT to follow the rules.

As much as I love grammar, as much as I love studying the structure and intricacies in language,  I know there are times when grammatical rules must be forsaken or I will fail as a writer.

There are times when self-expression trumps the revered style guides.

Rules NOT to Follow: (at least not ALL of the time!)

1.  Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction, such as AND or BUT. 

But what about when you’re trying to make a statement? Right. You get it now. Point taken.
Sometimes it is necessary to begin a sentence with a conjunction to make a point. It adds emphasis.

2.  Never use sentence fragments.

Talk about shoving self-expression into a box and throwing it into a deep pit. A dark pit. A pit filled with grammar rules etched into its walls. A dark pit that insists each sentence fragment be rewritten as a complete sentence.

We must rescue sentence fragments from the pit. Sentence fragments add emphasis and zing. They don’t dwell on what they’re getting at. They just say it. Short and snappy.  Self-expression at its best.

3.  A paragraph must be between three and five sentences long.

We live in a fast-paced society. We scan multiple articles on the worldwide web on a daily basis. We even read posts on our smartphones. We’re in a rush. Has this affected the desired paragraph length?

Maybe, maybe not. Literary style, as with other styles, changes with time.

Whatever the reason, particularly in articles and posts, short paragraphs reign. They pull us along rather than bogging us down. They get to the point.

Longer paragraphs aren’t all bad. In writing fiction, I prefer a blend of shorter and longer paragraphs to keep staleness at bay.

And then there are those one sentence—or one word—paragraphs. A rebellious blend of sentence fragment and too short of paragraph. But they make their point. Wonderfully.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. This is just to get your creative juices flowing, to get your mind considering that literary license may permit you to break the rules. At least some of them.

Our goal is to communicate. If the rules get in the way of communication, put them on the shelf.

Learn the rules. Learn how to use them. And learn when its time for self-expression to trump the rules.

(A Note to the Wise: Remember to keep a balance in all things. Don’t go to the extreme and use literary license as an excuse for poor grammar. Overuse kills the effectiveness!)

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Are you ready to break the rules? Do you have any examples of your own to share? Please do so in the comments section.


I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! If you want to connect with me, join me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  Interested in updates by email? CLICK HERE!

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The “All” Confusion

September 21, 2011 5 comments

Confusion often arises when we’re trying to decide if we want to use the word ALL or if we should be using the corresponding prefix. For example, do you know the difference between ALL READY and ALREADY? Do you know the difference between ALL TOGETHER and ALTOGETHER? Does it really matter which one you use? It does! Check out the differences below!

all ready/already

ALL READY (adjective phrase) means: completely ready, prepared

“I am all ready to leave for the cruise.”

ALREADY (adverb) means: previously

“I have already been on several cruises.”

And when you combine the two…

“I’ve already packed my bags so I am all ready to leave on the cruise!”

all together/altogether

ALL TOGETHER (adverb phrase) means: in a group

“If you all join in now, we could sing this new song all together.”

ALTOGETHER (adverb) means: wholly, completely, entirely

“It is altogether more than I can comprehend.”

And when you combine the two….

“It is altogether more than I can comprehend that you were able to arrange that we meet here all together.”

all right/alright

The general consensus of the various style guides is that ALRIGHT is a misspelling of the two words ALL RIGHT. Though the use of alright is becoming more readily acceptable, it is still considered by grammarians to be incorrect. Though you may at times be able to get away with writing alright, you will always be correct when you write all right!

The Quotation Marks Go Where?

May 23, 2011 5 comments

There is much confusion over the use of the lowly quotation mark. Living in an international community with much communication between Brits, Canadians and Americans, the grammar lines have become yet more blurred. Following is my attempt to demystify the role of the lowly quotation mark. Please bear with me!

For the record, the use of quotation marks and their relationship with punctuation varies depending on if you are using the American grammar rules or the grammar rules adhered to by the British, Canadians, and yes, we’ll include you Aussies!

In the United States, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks regardless of usage, as in the following:

  • My mom said, “Take out the trash.”
  • His favorite poem is “Deliverance.”
  • At the top of the screen, click on the button marked “Reply.”

One exception that I know of is that when the last item in quotes is just a letter or a number, the quotes go before the period or comma, as in the following:

  • She was pleased that her son received an “A”.

If anyone knows of other exceptions, I would love to be enlightened!

In British and Canadian grammar, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks if being quoted and outside if not, as in the following:

  • My mom said, “Take out the trash.”
  • His favorite poem is “Deliverance”.

Note that this is only in reference to quotation marks with periods and commas. If it’s a question or exclamation mark, it’s different. When quotation marks are involved with question or exclamation marks, we become a united international community and agree on the grammar!

If the question/exclamation mark is at the end of the quotation, the question/exclamation mark comes before the quotation, as in the following:

  • She asked, “Do you still love me?”
  • She said, “Did you see that!”

If the sentence is asking about a quotation, but the quotation is not the question itself, the question mark will be outside of the quotation marks, as in the following:

  • Do you agree with the saying, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”?
  • Which article did you like the most, “The Passion to Write” or “Five Falsehoods About Sleeping Dogs”?

Why my interest in the differences? I’m British by birth, raised in Canada after my parents immigrated, now married to an American, proud to say I am now an American, and currently living Stateside. I’ve had to re-learn my grammar from time to time!

My recommendation is to follow one or the other depending on where you live and where you plan to publish. I currently follow the American grammar rules. Most importantly, be consistent!

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