Self-contradicting rules of writing


These rules are collected from William Safire’s October 7 and November 4, 1979 “On Language” columns in The New York Times:

    1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
    2. A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
    3. The passive voice should never be used.
    4. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
    5. Don’t use no double negatives.
    6. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
    7. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
    8. Do not put statements in the negative form.
    9. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
    10. No sentence fragments.
    11. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
    12. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
    13. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
    14. A writer must not shift your point of view.
    15. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
    16. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
    17. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
    18. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
    19. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
    20. Write all adverbial forms correct.
    21. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
    22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
    23. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
    24. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
    25. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
    26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
    27. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
    28. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
    29. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
    30. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
    31. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
    32. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
    33. Always pick on the correct idiom.
    34. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.”‘”
    35. The adverb always follows the verb.
    36. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.


7 comments on “Self-contradicting rules of writing

  1. Love this one, AJ. I’ve saved it in my favourites folder – there can be no greater compliment.
    I hope you had a restorative and fun writing retreat.

  2. William Safire was one of a kind and still missed by me. It’s amazing no one could pick up that column and do what he used to do. Sigh.

  3. This is a classic. Love it.

Comments are closed.