Grammar Taboos: 10 Rules You Can Break (and Why You Should)

Language is not static; it evolves. This evolution gives rise to new expressions and alters grammatical structures. Traditional grammar rules, once considered unbreakable, are now challenged by contemporary usage and context. Embracing this change does not mean abandoning all rules but understanding the flexibility and dynamism inherent in language. This post explores ten grammar taboos you can break and why doing so might not just be acceptable, but sometimes preferable.

Ending Sentences with Prepositions

"Where are you at?" This question breaks the age-old rule of not ending sentences with prepositions. However, in informal and spoken English, such structures are not just common but sound more natural. The insistence on avoiding terminal prepositions often leads to awkward and contrived sentences. Language should be about clear communication, and if ending a sentence with a preposition makes it clearer, then it's perfectly fine.

Splitting Infinitives

"To boldly go where no one has gone before." The famous split infinitive from Star Trek defied this rule gloriously. Splitting infinitives – placing an adverb between 'to' and the verb – is often more rhythmic and emphatic. While traditionalists may cringe, splitting infinitives can make your writing sound more natural and emphatic.

Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

But why can't we start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'? These conjunctions, when used to start sentences, can provide emphasis or a dramatic effect. They're especially useful in conversational writing or for creating a stylistic effect. While overuse can lead to choppy writing, strategic use can enhance your narrative.

Using "They" as a Singular Pronoun

"They" as a singular pronoun has been a subject of debate. But it's increasingly accepted, especially as a gender-neutral pronoun. Using 'they' for a singular subject is not just about breaking a grammatical rule; it's about inclusivity and acknowledging gender diversity. Language reflects society, and as society evolves, so does the language.

Less vs. Fewer

The strict rule is to use 'fewer' for countable objects and 'less' for uncountable. However, in everyday language, 'less' is often used for both, and it's not incorrect. The sign at the express checkout line saying "10 items or less" is a common example. While 'fewer' may be technically correct, 'less' is widely accepted in casual contexts.

Passive Voice

Passive voice is often seen as weak or evasive, but it has its place. It can be useful for focusing on the action rather than the subject, or when the subject is unknown or irrelevant. Scientific writing frequently uses the passive voice for objectivity. Understanding when to use passive voice is a skill, and its use shouldn't be entirely discouraged.

Who vs. Whom

'Whom' is technically correct in certain situations, but it's increasingly viewed as archaic. In casual conversation and writing, using 'who' instead of 'whom' is widely accepted and often sounds more natural. Unless you're writing in a very formal context, 'whom' can usually be safely replaced with 'who'.

Avoiding Sentence Fragments

While complete sentences are the norm, sentence fragments can be a powerful stylistic tool. In creative writing, advertising, and speech writing, fragments can add impact or mimic natural speech. The key is to use them deliberately and sparingly for effect, not out of laziness.

Not Starting Sentences with "There is" or "There are"

Starting sentences with "There is" or "There are" is often considered weak or lazy. However, these phrases can be effective for introducing or emphasizing an idea. While they shouldn't be overused, they have their place in both spoken and written English.

Using Contractions

Contractions are often considered too casual for formal writing. However, they're a natural part of spoken English and can make written text more approachable and conversational. In less formal contexts, such as blogs or personal essays, using contractions can make your writing sound more authentic and relatable.


Breaking grammar rules is not about ignorance or laziness; it's about understanding the evolving nature of language and the context in which it's used. The key is knowing why and when it's appropriate to break these rules. Effective communication often lies in the balance between following traditional grammar and embracing linguistic evolution for clarity, inclusivity, and style. Language is a living, breathing entity, and just like any living thing, it grows and adapts. By acknowledging and embracing these changes, we can use language more effectively and expressively.