Often on the internet, we find grammar or language-related humor which is funny to native English speakers, but which if explained could prove to be educational to students of English as a second language.
Recently, there has been one going around the web called “How to write good”. It’s got some mistakes. But above all, it's really full of silly writing rules, which are actually contradictions .
Below you will find an explanation of each one.
If you are a student or teacher of English as a second language, we invite you to read and discuss each item.
A good exercise with these types of "rules" is to evaluate when they are appropriate and when they are not.
How to write "GOOD"? Yes, of course it is wrong!
ADVERBS (instead of adjectives): “Well” is an adverb, which means that it modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. “Write” is a verb; therefore “well” modifies “write”. “Good” is an adjective. It cannot modify a verb, only a noun. They expect natives to detect this mistake and immediately identify it as silly.
- Correction: How to write well
- ALLITERATION: It is a literary device in which two or more consecutive words (or words that are nearby in the same sentence) start with the same letter. It is often used in poetry, literature, slogans, and other propaganda because it is usually impressive and memorable. Another common usage is in tongue-twisters. The example below recommends not using alliteration, poetically and using alliteration. Second sign of silliness. (Ooh, look... more alliteration!)
- Example given: “Avoid Alliteration. Always.”
- PREPOSITION AT THE END: Most English native English speakers are taught in school that it is incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. However, in recent years, grammarians have debated this. More on that here. But to make the reader smile, they decide to end the sentence which says you shouldn't end with a preposition... yes, with a preposition.
- Example given: Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
- AVOIDING CLICHÉS: A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of language or of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In writing - or at least in academic or professional writing - it is highly recommended to avoid clichés. Naturally, this recommendation comes not with one cliché, but two.
- COMPARATIVES: One of the ways to compare two things that we believe have the same attribute (quality) is by using the structure: Verb to BE + as + adjective + as. It is not wrong to use this comparative form and it is not a showing of poor writing, as is the case with clichés. The example below is contradictory because it recommends not using comparisons and it uses a comparison. However, there is nothing wrong with using comparisons.
- Example given: Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
- BEING SPECIFIC: It is not always necessary to be specific. In writing, an introductory sentence to a paragraph or a conclusion should be more general. And a detail sentence should be more specific. The example below recommends being “specific”, but the sentence is very general, especially with the ambiguous phrase “more or less”. Again, it is contradictory.
- Example: Be more or less specific.
- GENERALIZE: It’s OK to generalize sometimes if the case requires it. And it’s fine to be specific as well when necessary. The example below makes a generalization about all “writers”, while recommending not to generalize. Yes, it’s contradictory.
- Example given: Writers should never generalize.
- CONSISTENCY: Being consistent when writing complete sentences and paragraphs or even powerpoint presentations helps the reader easily follow the information. A break in the consistency in style or format will distract the reader. The example below does exactly that. It recommends being consistent in the most inconsistent way.
- Example given: Seven : Be consistent
- REDUNDANCY: Any English language writing style manual will have a section strongly recommending writers not to repeat themselves. Just as texts can be redundant, so can people, often annoying others. In the example below, the recommendation against redundancy is done in a redundant way. Contradiction? Of course.
- Example given: Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
RHETORICAL: A rhetorical question is a question for which an answer is not expected. It used for effect in writing or public speaking. There is nothing wrong with it if used sparingly. In the example below, the recommendation against rhetorical questions is done by asking a rhetorical question. How contradictory!
- Example given: Who needs rhetorical questions?
EXAGGERATION: In conventional writing - in other words, in non-fictional, non-editorial writing - exaggeration is not highly appreciated or valued. However, it is not grammatically incorrect. Once again, the example allows us to see a contradiction between what is recommended and what is used in the recommendation.
- Example given: Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement