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“I” Before “E,” Except After “C”: Grammar Rules You Can Break

By July 2, 2013 July 29th, 2016 Industry Perspective

We all know that using proper grammar is important—we’ve probably had this drilled into our minds our whole lives. While writing can be tedious with all its stipulations and grammar rules, the beauty of it is that nothing is set in stone—it’s not an exact science. There are numerous rules, but no one way to write. However, there is a catch: you have to know a rule before you can break it. There’s a difference between developing a style and knowingly breaking the rules, and just being ignorant. While there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken, there are some grammar rules you can break!

Grammar rules you can break

Image via hrmorning.com

Before you deem whether or not breaking a rule is appropriate, here are some things to consider:

  1. Know the context. Where is your writing being published or read? Professional and academic publications and websites will require more formality than an email, post on social media, or blog post.
  2. Who’s reading your content? If you’re writing a letter to an investor or potential client, you may want to err on the side of formality. If it’s a friend on Facebook, not so much.
  3. Stick to your style. If your brand or company is more friendly and personable, you have more flexibility with your writing voice than a corporate or highly regulated entity.

Now on to the rules!

“One” versus “You” Debate

While formal writing dictates that you must use third person, let’s face it, you’re probably not engaging in formal writing. While your web copy, press releases, and emails might be more formal, they’re not literary essays or research papers. Besides, which one of these sentences sounds better?

  • If one would like, one may return the clothes within one week of one’s purchase.

-OR-

  • You can return the clothes within one week of purchase.

Yeah, we thought so too.

In schools, this rule is used because it helps students avoid writing in the second person. But if I’m writing about how much you will enjoy a new product, I don’t want to talk about “one.” I want to talk about “you.”

Keeping “I” Out of Your Writing  

Another remnant from our grade school days was an attempt to reduce the “I think” and “I believe” statements in favor of fact-based content. Yet again, we’re not writing essays. If you’re telling customers or potential clients what you think, then let them know it’s actually you who’s talking. If you’re constantly referring to yourself in the third person, it’s harder to trust. For example, “We believe that you deserve great customer service” is a statement that is not only acceptable, but also personable.

You Must Not Use Contractions, Mustn’t you?

Using contractions is perfectly acceptable with certain writing. Not using contractions in professional and formal writing is the norm, and quite frankly, the right way to write. On the other side of that, contractions are more casual and assume a certain level of informality, which is exactly what sales and marketing writing should sound like.

We all use contractions when we talk. In some written materials, like for broadcast copy and marketing content, we want to write the way we speak. “Speaking” to your reader through your content is the best way to make it stick and to make them the most comfortable.

For What Reason Are You Not Ending Your Sentence With a Preposition?

This ever-debated grammar rule can actually lead to some pretty awkward sentences. For example, the following exchange sounds better with a preposition ending.

No preposition:

  • “For what are you looking?”
  • “This is the product in which I’m interested.”

Preposition:

  • “What are you looking for?”
  • “This is the product I’m interested in.”

Which one sounds more natural?

As a rule of thumb, when determining if you can end a sentence with a preposition, if the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change when you could leave off the preposition, then leave it off.

But You Can’t Start a Sentence With a Conjunction, Can You?

This is another rule teachers engrained in our minds. Conjunctions (and, or, but) are typically used to join 2 parts of a sentence, and when a student begins a sentence with one of these, they are more likely to use incomplete sentences or fragments.

But starting a complete sentence with a conjunction can actually draw attention to the statement and imply an important transition.

Yo, Don’t Use Slang

This is definitely a rule that’s at your discretion. You probably want to avoid promoting your “fantastic medical advice,” but that brightly-colored superhero T-shirt is “totally rad!” It’s acceptable to use slang, casual verbiage, and everyday language in your writing, just don’t overdo it. Keep in mind the way your customers would actually speak about—or Google search—your products or company, and then write to their style.

Now That You Have the Knowledge…  

We’ve established that you can’t break the rules until you know them. But now that you know the rules, you can go ahead and break them—when appropriate! Happy writing!

grammar meme

 Image via twicsy.com

If your brand could use a little help finding out how to talk to your audience, our PR and Social Media teams may be able to help! Contact our own Mendy Werne (Mendy@BLASTmedia.com) for help with better marketing and PR techniques catered to your specific brand!

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