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When is it OK to break grammar rules?

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Getting your words right makes a good impression, but part of knowing the rules means knowing when it’s OK to break them. Lin­­guist Steven Pinker, writing in The Guardian, offers eight grammar rules that you can bend once in a while.

1.  Never start a sentence with a conjunction. Using one at the beginning of the sentence can give the clause extra weight.

2.  Use like, as, and such as, correctly. Many say “like” shouldn’t be used with a clause, but there’s no rule against it. In addition, using “like” to introduce examples is also acceptable, although “such as” sounds more formal.

3.  Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. A question such as “What are you listening to?” is legitimate.

4.  “It is I” is correct. It is, but it’s also very formal. “It’s me” is also acceptable.

5.  Don’t split infinitives. Adverb placement is often the culprit, but there are differences between “We expect sales to more than double” and “We expect sales more than to double.”

6.  Use who and whom correctly. “Whom” is more often seen as stuffy, and you can probably get away with using “who” most of the time. Of course, “to whom it may concern” is an exception.

7.  Don’t modify absolute adjectives. You can’t be “slightly pregnant,” and so some editors will argue that you can’t use “very unique.” “Uni­­que,” however, is a scaled definition—one out of many will be unique to some degree. However, “very” is over­­used.

8.  Use less/fewer correctly. When trying to decide on “less” or “fewer” with “than,” as in “less/fewer than 15 people showed up,” either is acceptable. “Fewer” is more precise, but “less” is not a mistake.

— Adapted from “10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes),” Steven Pinker, The Guardian.

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