Always told at school never to split your infinitives? Or never to begin a sentence with and, but or because? Despite what those pedantic profs said, it’s time to liberate your writing from the stuffy rules of days gone by.
Slavish devotion to the strict rules of writing might be expected in an academic essay, but today’s business world hinges on clarity and persuasiveness. As a modern, customer-focused business, it’s more important to convey your message to potential customers in a natural and unfussy style, than it is to abide by archaic, misguided dictums.
Don’t listen to your teacher!
And so to conjunctions. Why are we told it’s wrong to start a sentence with and, but, because or so? Probably because they’re seen as ‘joining words’ – words that can only straddle two separate clauses.
If that’s the case, no one told the translators of the King James Bible (“And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth…”) or indeed Shakespeare, who frequently used conjunctions for adding emphasis. And it’s not just scribes from days of yore who can get away with such heinous crimes. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, the acknowledged bible for today’s professional writers, derides this “persistent belief”, explaining that an initial And is “a useful aid” as part of a continuing narrative.
The war against split infinitives is equally long and bloody. According to some, you shouldn’t split a particle (such as to) from its accompanying verb (let’s say, go) with an adverb (like boldly). This belief has its roots in the Latin basis of English, where the particle and verb formed a single, indivisible word. But, as we all know, language evolves.
As former Oxford English Dictionary editor Robert Burchfield argues, no writer should “suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable.” Broadsheet newspapers concur. The Guardian’s in-house style guide is unequivocal: “It is perfectly acceptable to sensibly split infinitives, and stubbornly to resist doing so can sound awkward.” Do you see what they did there?
A third alleged rule discourages sentences ending in prepositions such as after, at, by, from, in, of, on or with. The idea that a clause such as “The table the cat jumped from…” (as opposed to “The table from which the cat jumped…”) deserves six-of-the-best dates from the 17th Century quill of lauded man of letters John Dryden, infamous for picking apart the work of his contemporaries. His phobia of prepositional endings was passed down through the centuries, before eventually facing the wrath of one Winston Churchill.
Churchill famously had no truck with this laughably outmoded notion, once responding to the writer of an overly-grammatical memo, “This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put”. The rule of thumb here is judge each case on its merits. What sounds better?