5 ‘Rules’ in English Grammar You Can Officially Break


9th July 2024

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English grammar is often perceived as a rigid set of rules that must be followed meticulously. However, language is fluid and evolves with usage. There are certain English grammar rules that, while traditionally emphasised, can be bent or broken in contemporary writing and speech. In this article, we’ll explore five such rules, discussing why they can be relaxed and how to use them flexibly without compromising clarity or correctness.

1. Splitting Infinitives

Traditional Rule: Never split an infinitive.

Infinitives are the basic form of a verb, usually preceded by “to” (e.g., to go, to read). The traditional rule dictates that nothing should come between “to” and the verb.

Why You Can Break It: Splitting an infinitive can make a sentence clearer or more emphatic. For example, “to boldly go where no one has gone before” is more impactful than “to go boldly where no one has gone before.”


  • Traditional: She decided to quickly finish her homework.
  • Flexible: She decided to finish her homework quickly.

2. Ending Sentences with Prepositions

Traditional Rule: Never end a sentence with a preposition.

Prepositions are words like “in,” “on,” “at,” “with,” and “about.” The rule suggests that they should not appear at the end of a sentence.

Why You Can Break It: Sometimes, forcing a sentence to conform to this rule can make it sound awkward or overly formal. Ending a sentence with a preposition is often more natural in spoken English.


  • Traditional: This is the book about which I was telling you.
  • Flexible: This is the book I was telling you about.

3. Passive Voice Usage

Traditional Rule: Always prefer the active voice over the passive voice.

The passive voice is often criticised for being weak or unclear. The passive voice rules suggest using active voice whenever possible.

Why You Can Break It: The passive voice can be useful, especially when the focus is on the action rather than the subject performing the action. It is also beneficial when the subject is unknown or irrelevant.


  • Traditional: The committee approved the proposal.
  • Flexible: The proposal was approved by the committee.

4. Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

Traditional Rule: Never start a sentence with a conjunction.

Conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or” are traditionally used to connect clauses within a sentence rather than to start a new one.

Why You Can Break It: Starting a sentence with a conjunction can add emphasis and improve the flow of your writing. It can make your writing more conversational and engaging.


  • Traditional: She wanted to go to the party, but she had to work.
  • Flexible: She wanted to go to the party. But she had to work.

5. Overly Strict Punctuation

Traditional Rule: Follow rules in punctuation strictly.

Punctuation rules, such as the placement of commas and periods, are typically adhered to rigidly to avoid confusion.

Why You Can Break It: While clarity is important, overly strict punctuation can stifle the natural rhythm of writing. Creative writers often bend these rules to convey a particular tone or style. For example, E.E. Cummings ignored traditional punctuation to create a unique and expressive voice in his poetry.


  • Traditional: He walked to the store, bought some milk, and returned home.
  • Flexible: He walked to the store. Bought some milk. Returned home.This creates a more staccato, impactful rhythm that enhances the narrative’s urgency and style.

Other Common Rules and Exceptions

Rules of A and An in English Grammar

One commonly adhered-to rule is the use of “a” and “an” before nouns. According to the rules of a and an in English grammar, “a” is used before words that begin with a consonant sound, and “an” is used before words that begin with a vowel sound.

Why You Can Bend It: While this rule is generally straightforward, some exceptions exist based on pronunciation rather than spelling. For example, “an hour” (because ‘h’ is silent) and “a university” (because ‘u’ sounds like ‘you’).

All Rules of Tense

Tense consistency is a fundamental aspect of clear writing. All rules of tense typically emphasise maintaining a consistent tense throughout a piece of writing.

Why You Can Bend It: While tense consistency is important, shifting tenses can be used effectively to indicate a change in the timeline or to reflect a character’s thoughts and feelings in creative writing.


  • Traditional: She walks to the park every day and sees the children playing. She always remembers how much fun she had as a child.
  • Flexible: She walks to the park every day and sees the children playing. She remembered how much fun she had as a child.

Embracing Flexibility in Grammar

Breaking these English grammar rules doesn’t mean disregarding grammar altogether. Rather, it involves understanding when and how bending a rule can improve clarity, engagement, or style. Language is a living entity, constantly evolving with its users. By recognising the flexibility in these rules, you can enhance your communication, making it more natural and effective.

Language is not a set of immutable laws but a dynamic system that adapts to the needs of its users. While it’s essential to learn and understand the rules in punctuation, all rules of tense, passive voice rules, and other grammar guidelines, knowing when to break them can lead to more effective and engaging communication. Embrace the flexibility of English grammar and use it to your advantage.

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