Three Writing Rules That Are Kinda Dumb

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by Allison Maruska

There are many rules that govern our writing and language use. Ever useful, sometimes changing, and occasionally bizarre.

There are some rules I just can’t seem to learn. My brain refuses to let them in, and I have to look them up every single damn time I need to use them. One of those is the lay/lie/laying/lying differences. Grammar Girl comes in handy with that one.

But most of the time, as a proponent of writing correctly, I do a decent job at spotting errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And this is true:

Even so, there are a few rules that are just dumb and I’m less strict about.

 

Dumb Rule 1: All right, alright, all-right

That last one isn’t real. I just wanted the McConaughey reference: “Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln can’t make left turns. It just goes alright, alright, alright.”

I was stubborn about this one for a long time. In my mind, “all right” means “completely correct” and “alright” means “okay.” I used “alright” in dialogue, and “all right” sounded/looked stuffy to me. And then there’s this: “Although ‘already’ and ‘altogether’ are standard, ‘alright’ isn’t.”

All though they were there all ready, it was all together a chaotic situation, all right.

Blah.

 

Dumb Rule #2: Regional spelling differences

There are some rules that only exist because America.

And they only exist in America.

Take toward/towards, for example.

Or all those words that lost their “u” on their trip across the pond/over the Canadian border: What’s your favourite colour?

I don’t write those words with the added “u,” but I do write and say “towards.” I also get comments on it in the critique group frequently enough to notice.

Me: She walked towards the store.

CP: Towards in the UK, toward in the US.

Ugh.

This is one I won’t budge on, mainly because I say towards and I think it sounds better. Not everything we Americans do “just because” is the right thing.

 

Dumb Rule #3: Punctuation always goes inside the quotes (but only in America!)

Look, it’s another regional-specific rule!

Punctuation inside quotation marks: “Why?” ≥ “Why”?

“Depending on the English-speaking nation, punctuation marks either go inside quotation marks (America) or outside (pretty much everywhere else). Considering the fact that this debate wages on an international scale, no further explanation is really needed.”

I’ve had to correct myself because of this rule about half a dozen times just in this post. Unlike “towards,” I try to follow the US rule on this one because more people fuss about it and I don’t want to die on that hill. That said, it makes sense to me that a quoted word or phrase (I’m not talking about dialogue here, by the way) should be considered its own entity and not have punctuation invading it.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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36 thoughts on “Three Writing Rules That Are Kinda Dumb”

  1. Quotes with unquoted punctuation marks annoy the crap out of me. But I try to follow the “rule” must of the time. Sometimes, I’ll rephrase the whole thing, simply to make it look right. Probably my biggest frustration with this is inserting an unwanted comma or period. Totally with you on this.

    To add to the British vs. American nonsense, my computer is bi-polar in this respect. About half of the programs are using a British spell checker, and the other half check for English. Every so often, my word processor stops checking for spelling altogether. Maybe it’s just as frustrated as the rest of us, hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry I meant to imply that one is American English, and the other is the English used by most other countries.

        Like

  2. In my Webster dictionary, “all right” is indicated as the preferred spelling. Some publishers prefer “alright” due to less character space is used on the page. I don’t see how that would be an issue, but it’s their business and their decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, I never even thought about the differentiating of ‘toward’ and ‘towards.’ I suppose I just use them interchangeably… However I do have a preference for dialogue like “This?” instead of “This”? even though in theory “This”? makes a lot more sense sometimes, especially in a novel. There is something aesthetically pleasing to the “This?” Anyway, thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Last time I looked it up, I believe “towards” was more informal than “toward,” but there isn’t much difference.

      The placement of the question mark inside or outside the quotation depends.

      If your characters says, “This?” then you would never have the question mark on the outside. It’s part of his/her question, so within the quote.

      -Why would my friend say “I’ll see you later”?
      Here the ? belongs to the whole sentence, not the quote.
      If a character says the above line, it goes like this: “Why would my friend say ‘I’ll see you later’?”
      Complicated but not really. It all makes sense except the period and comma always being inside quotes in North America. That’s just a convention to remember. The rest is logical.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was going to add that and didn’t. The dictionary does include the word and describes it as a variant. Recent editing manuals, however, have not officially accepted the “variant” as an official word.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Punctuation and quotes: Not all punctuation goes always inside or always outside the quotes. In the US (and technically Canada), periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. The question mark and exclamation point are placed inside or outside, depending on whether they belong with the quotation or with the sentence at large, respectively. In Britain, the latter is the case for periods and commas as well.

    As far as alright/all right — I’m not budging on that one in my own writing, although I know people who use “alright.” Modern editing manuals still maintain that “all right” comes in one form, which can mean all correct or okay. I always write “all right” — although, you never know, one day the one-word form might be officially accepted.

    By contrast,
    all ready / already
    all together / altogether
    all ways / always
    come in two forms, depending on context. I believe this is where the confusion with “alright” began, even though originally “all right” had only one form.

    every day (adjective + noun) / everyday (adjective) are another example where one must consider usage.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All right! I enclose commas and periods inside quotation marks. The only exception to the American rule is when a letter falls at the end of the sentence. I use toward or towards, depending on which word sounds better in the sentence. Same with afterward(s) and backward(s).

    I have a rule to follow for lay (to place or to set) and lie (to sit or to recline). Lay/laid almost always takes an object. Lie/lay/lain does not. Adverbs and prepositional phrases usually trip us up. He laid down (should be lay down). With an object, however, it would be: He laid the book aside. She was laying on the beach (should be lying). Because we hear lie/lay used incorrectly all the time, it makes it more difficult to choose the correct verb and tense when we’re writing.

    Ah, such is a writer’s life! Thanks for the post, Allison. Shared. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Oh gosh, I always get so confused between “all right” and “alright”, and I use it so much in my dialogue too. Regional grammar differences always intrigue me. It takes me a little time to adjust to the single quotation marks and slang that Brits use. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it in The Girl on the Train 🙂

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on Books and More and commented:
    Was unaware we were the only ones that put punctuation inside the quotations and I’ve read books written from British authors. The whole “toward/towards” thing is new to me too. I just use whichever fits the bill. As for the spelling differences, I usually only get caught on grey/gray. Other than that it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is British using parenthesis instead of quotation marks for dialogue. Instead of “Wow” the character will say ‘Wow.’

    Like

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