Grammar Rules That Never Existed*
You can't start a sentence with "and" or "but." Of course you can. You always could. "And" and "but" are coordinating conjunctions, and since they both coordinate and conjoin, they can begin a sentence. The trick, of course, is that it's got to be a sentence that flows from the previous one.
Sentence fragments are never acceptable. Not true. They're just pieces of sentences. Poorly used or thoughtless fragments are evil. Most good writers make use of fragments for rhetorical effect—and not just in fiction. Example: "Which public university ranks lowest in all areas? Certainly not Berkeley!"
You must never split an infinitive. Berkeley's own Frederick Crewes (English) calls this an "overrated taboo," and Berkeley's Robin Lakoff (Linguistics) explains its source in our adoption of Latin grammar: in Latin, an infinitive is one word, so it can't be split. Most grammar types agree that sometimes, the split infinitive sounds better than the alternative. Besides, you can't change Star Trek: To boldly go where no one has gone before.
You must never end a sentence with a preposition. If it's truly a preposition, the rule has some validity. But most of those sentences don't end with prepositions, but end with "fused" or two-word verbs. Then what we called a preposition is now known as an adverbial particle. "He threw up" is just fine, because the verb is "threw up," not "threw" plus a preposition. "Is this something with which you can put up?" Ugh. The verb is "to put up with" so why not just say, "Is this something you can put up with?" It's fine.
What follows a colon is always a list. No. It's always an explanation, expansion, or definition relating to what came before the colon. But it doesn't have to be a list: it can be one word or a completely independent clause. (Not the colon in the last sentence.)
* Or that have been incorrectly interpreted.
Steve Tollefson is a Lecturer in the College Writing Programs and a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award. He is author of the books GrammarGrams and GrammarGrams II.
This is the first in a series of columns about writing in general and grammar and style in particular. If you have questions you'd like to see answered or pet peeves you'd like to air to the Berkeley community, email them to Steve Tollefson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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