Friday, July 15, 2011

Rules For Writers

William Safire’s Rules for Writers

In twenty-five short rules, William Safire has managed to nail down what all good writers should know.

1. Don't abbrev.

2. Check to see if you any words out.

3. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.

4. About sentence fragments.

5. When dangling, don't use participles.

6. Don't use no double negatives.

7. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

8. Just between You and i, case is important.

9. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.

10. Don't use commas, that aren't necessary.

11. Its important to use apostrophe's right.

12. It's better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.

13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.

14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should.

15. begin with a capital and end with a period

16. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.

17. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas

18. to keep a string of items apart.

19. Watch out for irregular verbs which have creeped into our language.

20. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

21. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.

22. A writer mustn't shift your point of view.

23. Don't write a run-on sentence you've got to punctuate it.

24. A preposition isn't a good thing to end a sentence with.

25. Avoid cliches like the plague.

Writers like to think they can break the rules. Rules are made to be broken, right? I think so - especially if the author is clever enough to get away with it. But I tend to agree with Mr. Safire here. Good writers, really good ones, play by the rules.

What about you? Do you play by the rules? Do you know an author who breaks 'em well? If so, give us an example of how they got away with it.


  1. Nice post. i think every writer breaks the rules now and then. Depends on th ebest way to say what you want to say, I think.

    Moody Writing

  2. Hah! Cute post, Susan. (Hey, aren't you supposed to be in the middle of nowhere...?)

    Some rules are made to be broken, but not these.

    That said:
    I think sentence fragments are okay in very, very special situations, for instance, but it's clearly the exception and not the rule.

    I think I've seen dangling participles pulled off nicely a small handful of times, but again, very special circumstances.

    I think it's one of those things where you have to _really_ know the rules before you can even think of breaking them. Otherwise, you're just going to mangle your writing.

  3. Good rules, but some do need to be bent every once in a while. Split infinitives are a hold over from Latin in which you *can't* split an infinitive--they're one word. The same can be said for prepositions at the end of a sentence. Can't be done in Latin. Our ancient grammarians saddled us with the idea that Latin grammar is perfect and English should be just like it.

    Now that I have that I've ceased being the Latin teacher--Have a great weekend, Susan!

  4. Grammar nazi (and English professor) that I am, this list gave me an instant headache. There are certainly some rules that can be broken for creative license (fragments and split infinitives as mentioned by other commenters--also ending with a preposition and even using the occasional well-placed cliche), but I think the bottom line is ultimately clarity.

    Rules can be broken for effect, but the effects must be purposeful. A writer can, for instance, eschew sentence punctuation to convey a breakdown in social order or play with capitalization to emphasize things we normally consider common. But there's a huge difference between breaking the rules deliberately and breaking them out of error or lack of understanding.

    Now that my headache is subsiding, the list is rather fun. I might borrow some of it for class. :)

  5. Love it :) I like to stick with the rules, but I'll break 'em now and again, where warranted. Always on purpose, though- it's definitely best to know the rules before you mess with them.

  6. Love it! "A writer mustn't shift your point of view." Great example, that I can use when trying to explain to people why head hopping is so annoying...

  7. Hilarious list, Susan! "Don't use no double negatives." Snort.

    Thanks for posting it. :-)