- Passive Voice
I have been guilty of using the passive voice on numerous occasions. I’ll probably use it a couple of times in this blog—it must be the journalist in me. My editors will tell you how much I love to use it, although I’ve been trying to avoid it in my academic writing. Passive voice is when you switch the object of the sentence and the subject of the sentence. We use it all the time in speech, which is why we tend to glaze over it when writing and editing. Many however, assume that passive voice is bad form, and can be inconsistent and unclear in some cases. For example, it sounds better to say “Sam enjoyed his vacation in Florida” than to say “The vacation in Florida was enjoyed by Sam.” In some cases you will want to emphasize the object more than the subject, and in that case, passive voice is appropriate. Many journalist use passive voice to emphasize the act rather than the person committing the act. Just remember, academic writing wants you to be brief and powerful, so in those cases avoid passivizing if you can.
- Ending with a Preposition
Most of the time, ending a sentence with a preposition is extremely frowned upon, especially in your academic writing. Some teachers might mark it off before they even read the context. However, in some cases ending prepositions may be better than an alternative word order For example, if I were to say, “Suzy doesn’t know where she came from.” I would have to reword the phrase to, “Suzy doesn’t know from where she came.” This sounds outdated, wordy, sloppy, and ultimately just doesn’t work in an academic setting. The first sentence is how we speak in everyday English. Should we end every sentence with a preposition? No, but we shouldn’t be hyper aware of this prescriptive rule either.
- Split Infinitives
One of the most famous lines in history, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” involves a split infinitive. An infinitive is a verb phrase that includes the word “to” plus a verb, such as “to live” or “to die.” Grammar rules tell us to avoid splitting the phrase. For example, it is incorrect to say “to valiantly die.” However, according to descriptive grammar, there isn’t really a relevant argument against it in modern English. In Latin, infinitives are one single verb form, without involving the word “to.” Therefore attempting to apply Latin grammar to English, some old guy made up a rule that infinitives can’t be split. Like most of these mistakes, you should not overuse them, but they aren’t a sin against grammar.
- Beginning with a Conjunction
We ended with prepositions, now we are beginning with conjunctions? I know you must think I’m insane at this point, but believe me it’s all true. In modern English, beginning a sentence with a conjunction has become widely accepted among authors, teachers, and even grammarians. There was no real reason to make the rule in the first place; it was more of a way to teach children to write more elaborately. When you say, “But the truth is, the plan was a failure,” the introductory clause “But the truth is” is perfectly acceptable and descriptively and grammatically correct. There is subject verb agreement within the clause, and it acts as a conjunctive adverb. But, as I mentioned earlier don’t abuse the system (see what I did there?)