On Writing Good

On Writing Good

When I was in junior high school (the early ’80s), an English teacher handed out a page of funny writing rules.  It didn’t attribute any authorship, so I always thought it was hers.  I loved these guidelines so much that I kept them for many years until the paper became severely worn. I eventually retyped them into my computer during college.  

I rediscovered the list, which prompted some research in hopes of finding an original source.  A different version of it appeared in The New York Times Magazine on November 11, 1979 under the article The Fumblerules of Grammar.  It was written by author and columnist, William Safire.  I can’t guarantee it, but this appears to be a possible source for the material from my junior high school teacher. Safire collected suggestions from his readers before creating his list of bad grammar rules.  He mentioned in his article that English teachers had been doing this for years.

I found a couple of other locations where variations were made to this list.  However, none of the additions seem as good as the simple list I was initially given.

Therefore, with a nod to Mr. Safire, I am sharing the basic list as was provided by my junior high English teacher.  Hopefully, you will enjoy it and learn from it as I have.


On Writing Good

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague. They're old hat.

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. One should never generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Don't use no double negatives.

17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

18. One‑word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

20. The passive voice is to be ignored.

21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

23. Kill all exclamation points!!!

24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shaking ideas.

26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.

27. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.

29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

32. Who needs rhetorical questions?

33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

34. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.


There you go!  If you liked those, jump over to Mr. Safire's original Fumblerules article.  There are some additional rules as well as different takes on the rules above.  These are good things to keep in mind when writing for work, creating fiction or developing your next blog post.

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