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Many respected authorities on writing, editing, grammar and word usage dispute the following eight myths of writing. These mistaken "rules" are sometimes taught and followed in education, business, law and government. Listed with the myths are some of the references that dispute them.


Myth: Never split an infinitive.

Sample acceptable usage: He wanted to really impress the council.

References : Lounsbury, 1908; Fowler, 1926; Leonard, 1932; Curme, 1947; Evans & Evans, 1957; Lewis, 1961; Bernstein, 1965; Perrin, 1965; Follett, 1966; Skillin, 1974; Gowers, 1988; Johnson, 1991; Stott, 1991; Lauchman, 1993; American Heritage, 1996; Lederer & Dowis, 1999; Lovinger, 2000; Strunk & White, 2000; Trimble, 2000; Wallraff, 2000; Walsh, 2000; Bryson, 2002; Merriam-Webster, 2002; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Williams, 2003; Associated Press, 2004; Cutts, 2004; O'Connor, 2004; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never begin a sentence with But or And.

Sample acceptable usage: But don't overuse conjunctions to begin a sentence; they'll lose their punch. And that would reduce their value.

References on and: Lowth, 1782; Lloyd, 1938; Bryant, 1947; Fowler & Gowers, 1965; Follett, 1966; Amis, 1977; Copperud, 1980; Morris & Morris, 1985; Gowers, 1988; Johnson, 1991; Stott, 1991; Burchfield, 1992; American Heritage, 1996; Lederer & Dowis, 1999; Lovinger, 2000; Wallraff, 2000; Walsh, 2000; Bryson, 2002; Merriam-Webster, 2002; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Williams, 2003; Cutts, 2004; O'Connor, 2004; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual

References on but: Lloyd, 1938; Baker, 1962; Pence & Emery, 1963; Payne, 1965; Follett, 1966; Amis, 1977; Gowers, 1988; Johnson, 1991; Stott, 1991; American Heritage, 1996; Lederer & Dowis, 1999; Trimble, 2000; Wallraff, 2000; Walsh, 2000; Merriam-Webster, 2002; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Williams, 2003; Cutts, 2004; O'Connor, 2004; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never end a sentence with a preposition.

Sample acceptable usage: Which employees are you attending the conference with?

References : Lowth, 1782; Bryant, 1947; Evans & Evans, 1957; Fowler & Gowers, 1965; Bernstein, 1971; Skillin, 1974; Gowers, 1988; Stott, 1991; American Heritage, 1996; Lederer & Dowis, 1999; Lovinger, 2000; Trimble, 2000; Wallraff, 2000; Woods, 2001; Bryson, 2002; Merriam-Webster, 2002; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Williams, 2003; Cutts, 2004; O'Connor, 2004; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never use between with more than two objects.

Sample acceptable usage: Officials scheduled meetings between the Metropolitan King County Council and the Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond city councils.

References : Lowth, 1782; Bryant, 1947; Fowler & Gowers, 1965; Skillin, 1974; Bernstein, 1977; Gowers, 1988; OED, 1989; Johnson, 1991; Lederer & Dowis, 1999; Lovinger, 2000; Wallraff, 2000; Strunk & White, 2002; Walsh, 2000; Associated Press, 2002; Bryson, 2002; Merriam-Webster, 2002; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never use contractions.

Sample acceptable usage: The council wasn't in a position to adjust the budget.

References : Lowth, 1782; Bryant, 1947; Flesch, 1962; Ewing, 1974; Zinsser, 1985; Stott, 1991; Trimble, 2000; Garner, 2003; O'Connor, 2004; Sabin, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never use the first-person pronouns I and me.

Sample acceptable usage: The team included Debbie and me. Debbie and I attended the meeting.

References : Lowth, 1782; Bryant, 1947; Flesch, 1958; Stott, 1991; Lauchman, 1993; Trimble, 2000; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; O'Connor, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never use since to mean because.

Sample acceptable usage: Since funds were available, the county built the sidewalk.

References : Follett, 1966; Copperud, 1980; Walsh, 2000; Chicago, 2003; Garner, 2003; Williams, 2003; O'Connor, 2004 | King County Style Manual


Myth: Never refer to the reader as you.

Sample acceptable usage: You may contact the Executive's Office at 206-296-4004.

References : Flesch, 1962; Olson, DeGeorge & Ray, 1985; Trimble, 2000; Garner, 2003 | King County Style Manual


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References

  • American Heritage, The, Book of English Usage, 1996 (exteral link)
  • Amis, Kingsley, The King's English, 1997
  • Associated Press, The, Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, revised and updated, 2004
  • Baker, Josephine Turck, Correct English: Complete Grammar and Drill Book, 1938
  • Baker, Sheridan, The Practical Stylist, 1962
  • Bernstein, Theodore M., Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer's Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears, and Outmoded Rules of English Usage, 1971
  • Bernstein, Theodore M., Dos, Don'ts & Maybes of English Usage, 1977
  • Bernstein, Theodore M., The Careful Writer, 1965
  • Bryant, Margaret M., College English, 1947
  • Bryson, Bill, Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right, 2002
  • Burchfield, R.W., Points of View, 1992
  • Chicago Press, University of, Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, 2003 (external link)
  • Copperud, Roy H., American Usage and Style: The Consensus, 1980
  • Curme, George O., English Grammar, 1947
  • Cutts, Martin, Oxford Guide to Plain English, second edition, 2004 (external link)
  • Evans, Bergen, & Cordelia Evans, A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, 1957
  • Ewing, David, Writing for Results in Business, Government, and the Professions, 1974
  • Flesch, Rudolf, A New Way to Better English, 1958
  • Flesch, Rudolf, How to Be Brief: An Index to Simple Writing, 1962
  • Follett, Wilson, Modern American Usage, 1966
  • Fowler, H.W., Dictionary of Modern English Usage,1926
  • Fowler, H.W., Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Ernest Gowers, editor, second edition, 1965
  • Garner, Bryan A., Garner's Modern American Usage, 2003
  • Gowers, Ernest, The Complete Plain Words, revised by Sidney Greenbaum & Janet Whitcut, 1988
  • Johnson, Edward D., The Handbook of Good English, 1991
  • Lauchman, Richard, Plain Style: Techniques for Simple, Concise, Emphatic Business Writing, 1993
  • Lederer, Richard, & Richard Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged, 1999
  • Leonard, Sterling, Current English Usage, 1932
  • Lewis, Norman, Better English, 1961
  • Lloyd, Charles Allen, We Who Speak English, 1938.
  • Lounsbury, Thomas R., The Standard of Usage in English, 1908
  • Lovinger, Paul W., The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style, 2000
  • Lowth, Robert, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, revised edition, 1782
  • Merriam-Webster, Concise Dictionary of English Usage, 2002
  • Morris, William, & Mary Morris, Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, second edition, 1985
  • O'Connor, Patricia T., Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, second edition, 2004
  • O'Connor, Patricia T., Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing, 1999
  • Olson, Gary A., James DeGeorge & Richard, Ray, Style and Readability in Business Writing, 1985
  • Oxford English Dictionary (OED), second edition, 1989
  • Payne, Lucile Vaughan, The Lively Art of Writing, 1965
  • Pence, R.W., & D.W. Emery, Grammar of Present-Day English, 1963
  • Perrin, Porter G., Writer's Guide and Index to English, fourth edition, 1965
  • Sabin, William, The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th edition, 2004 (external link)
  • Skillin, Marjorie, Robert M. Gay, & others, Words Into Type, third edition, 1974
  • Stott, Bill, Write to the Point, 1991
  • Strunk, Jr., William, & E.B. White, The Elements of Style, fourth edition, 2000
  • Trimble, John R., Writing with Style, second edition, 2000
  • Wallraff, Barbara, Word Court, 2000 (external link)
  • Walsh, Bill, Lapsing Into a Comma, 2000 (external link)
  • Williams, Joseph M., Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, 2003
  • Woods, Geraldine, English Grammar for Dummies, 2001
  • Zinsser, William, On Writing Well, third edition, 1985

Myths and references compiled by Gary Larson


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