writers tips

Writers Tip #98: 18 Tips on Grammar from William Safire

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

William Safire, speechwriter for President Nixon, Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times (and one of their few conservative columnists), died in 2009, but lives on through both his writing and his wisdom about writing. The highly-acclaimed column he started in 1973 for the NYTimes called “On Language” (now written by Ben Zimmer) established him as one of the most significant voices on how to write well. His wildly-popular approach to the who-whom problem  is now called Safire’s Law of Who/Whom:

“When whom is correct, recast the sentence.”

Despite the assumed dullness of his topic, Safire had a wonderful sense of humor. Read these quotes:

The wonderful thing about being a New York Times columnist is that it’s like a Supreme Court appointment – they’re stuck with you for a long time.

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.

Cast aside any column about two subjects. It means the pundit chickened out on the hard decision about what to write about that day.
Here are eighteen grammar tips that include his wry humor I found useful:

  1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  2. The passive voice should never be used.
  3. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  4. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  5. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  6. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
  7. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  8. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  9. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
  10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  11. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  12. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  13. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  14. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  15. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  16. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  17. The adverb always follows the verb.
  18. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

For the complete list of fifty, visit Dave McAwesome’s post.

If you love investigating and perfecting grammar, check out The Grammar Guru and the Grammar Girl. Both provide quick, useful grammar advice you can consume quickly and use immediately.

To have these tips delivered to your email, click here.

More on grammar:

Writer’s Tip #29: No Exclamation Points! Please!

Grammar and Spelling Aren’t Just for Computers

Despite Spell-check, Check Your Spelling (and Grammar)

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

27 thoughts on “Writers Tip #98: 18 Tips on Grammar from William Safire

  1. Pingback: 21 Tips from Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: Writers Tips #101: 17 Tips from Writing the Blockbuster Novel | WordDreams...

    • It doesn’t matter in your case, Koji. Your voice is unique and authentic–refreshing. I’m reading Peter Bowen’s 12-book Gabriel DuPre series. He’s a Meti Indian–voice just like them, a Montana native. I love the book because he breaks all the writing rules.

      Liked by 1 person

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