Why kick these old grammar rules away?
Well, as you saw in Part 1, in modern-day writing, they no longer always apply. Like all languages, English — in its various guises — evolves. The rules for using it also evolve.
Of course, if you’re writing very formal documents or writing to a very formal person, you might want to stick with the old rules.
But for regular stuff, here are three more old rules you can safely disregard.
1. Never use contractions in business writing. Business writing used to be far more formal than we see in the 2020s; much of our writing now includes emails, texts, or short letters. Since those are largely informal, using contractions is perfectly fine!
Of course, it helps if you know how to form them …
Forming contractions of words is easy enough; we’ve been doing that for all of our school / work life. We know that we remove one or more letters from two words, then we use the apostrophe to indicate where it / they used to be.
I have = I’ve he will = he’ll Jan cannot = Jan can’t Joe is going = Joe’s going
BUT: Frank will not = Frank won’t
Are you with me so far? You know the apostrophe goes where the letters were. So why is it so difficult to understand how to form contractions of years? We remove the first two numbers of a year like 1964, and we’re left with 64. Where does the apostrophe go?
WHERE THE NUMBERS 19 USED TO BE!
The class of 1956 = the class of ’56 (NOT the class of 56′)
I’ve always loved the 1960s music = the ’60s music.
Back in the 1880s = back in the ’80s
Back in the 1980s = back in the ’80s
(Context is critical here; be sure to write out the four-digit year before using the contraction.)
2. Always follow the rules for using who and whom.
To follow that rule depends on knowing what the rules are and how formal you want or need to be.
Who and whom are pronouns, and they’re supposed to be used the same way I or me, or they or them are used. Who is meant to be the subject of a sentence or verb, and whom is meant to be the object.
But again, real life and communication smarts butt heads with grammar rules, and this is one time when common sense needs to win.
To whom did you give it? (Really proper; really unnatural.)
Whom did you give it to? (Proper but not so natural.)
Who did you give it to? (More natural but not quite so proper.)
Click here to learn the rules for using who and whom.
3. Always use singular pronouns when referring to a single person.
OK, this one is tough for many of us, including me. But I think writing he/she or s/he or he or she is even more awkward than using the plural they, their, or them when we don’t know the gender of the single person we’re writing about.
BUT: If we’re writing about a man or boy, we use the masculine forms. If we’re writing about a woman or girl, we use the feminine forms. (Reality check 2021: If you’re not sure about the gender, use the default they/their/them.)
YES: All mothers should pick up their kids at 1 p.m.
YES: Each mother should pick up her kids at 1 p.m.
NO: Each mother should pick up their kids at 1 p.m.
We can also rewrite some sentences so that we don’t have to use as many pronouns, especially when we’re writing about what a job title will do, not knowing who will fill the role. One of the easiest changes is to put the job title in a plural form, with the following pronouns also in plural form. Logical and easy!
NO: When an administrator reads a résumé, he should …
NO: When an administrator reads a résumé, he or she should …
OK: When an administrator reads a résumé, they should …
YES: When administrators read a résumé, they should …
YES: When secretaries … they …
YES: When carpenters … they …
Just takes a little imagination, right?