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BS That Your High School English Teacher Might Have Taught You

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stefan milne

on 16 April 2013

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Transcript of BS That Your High School English Teacher Might Have Taught You

Bullshit Number 1 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: You can't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction--words like "and," "but," or "so." The Truth: You absolutely can and should start sentences with these words. In fact, if you don't use these words sometimes to start a sentence, you probably aren't writing as well as you can. Consider, for example, the following pairs of sentences: I went to Seattle. However, it didn't rain. I went to Seattle. But it didn't rain. What is the tonal difference? Which pair do you prefer? Number 2 What Your Teacher Might Have Told You: You can't end a sentence with a preposition.

For example, the following sentence, according to your teacher, would be correct:
"That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put." - Winston Churchill Preposition The Truth: The only reason to not end a sentence with a preposition is because it can be poor style. And this sentence would be "incorrect": That is the type of arrant pedantry that I shall not put up with. For example:

Where are you at? is a worse sentence than Where are you? Number 3 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: Something about semicolons that is incorrect. I've heard too many incorrect things about how to use these to list them all. The Truth: Semicolons are used to join related independent clauses. For example:
I'm tired; I'm going to bed. But since so many of you seem to have issues with this piece of punctuation, perhaps take a word of advice from Kurt Vonnegut: “First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” Number 4 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: Good essays have five paragraphs. The Truth That's nonsense. The number of paragraphs depends on how much you have to say, not on some predetermined form. Number 5 What Your Teacher Might have Said: You can't use contractions like "can't" in academic writing. The Truth: This one is widespread. Other teachers at this school might tell you this also. But I've read a lot of perfectly good scholarship that uses contractions. They sound more relaxed and thus I prefer them.

Just be aware that this might change in every class you have. Number 6 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: You can't use "I" in formal writing. The Truth: You can and sometimes should use "I" in formal writing. But when you consider using it, decide if the sentence would be better without it. Number 7 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: You can never split an infinitive.

For example, the following would be wrong:

"To boldy go where no man has gone before." This teacher might change the phrase to,

"To go boldly where no man has gone before." The Truth: Unless it is awkward to split the infinitive, split infinitives are fine. Number 8 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: Starting a paper with a dictionary definition is a good and engaging opening. The Truth: This is a terrible and hackeneyed way to begin a paper. First, because teachers say it's a good idea, a bunch of people do it, so it's unoriginal and therefore not engaging. Second, this opening assumes that your reader does not know what the word you are defining means. Perhaps your reader doesn't, but often the word people use is something simple like "Equality."

Thus you sound like an asshole because you're assuming that the reader is essentially uneducated even though you are writing an academic paper. Number 9 What Your Teacher Might Have Said: The last comma in a list of items is optional. For example:

The American flag is red, white, and blue. Optional The Truth: This comma is not optional in my class. Here's why: What is wrong with the following sentence? This album is dedicated to my parents, Kanye West and God. Although Kanye West might believe that he and God are gay lovers, this meaning is probably not what the writer of the sentence would intend.

Thus we use the comma. Number 10 What your teacher might have said: Put in commas wherever you would pause when reading a sentence aloud. The Truth: No. You put in commas where commas are needed grammatically. This only sometimes has to do with where you would pause. That Your High School English Teacher Might Have Taught You
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