Friday, March 25, 2011

The Fumblerules of Grammar

Years ago, New York Times columnist William Safire compiled "The Fumblerules of Grammar." I got reminded of one of them today. If you've never seen them, they are hilarious and tremendous. If you've seen them before, enjoy another chuckle.

1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
2. Don't use no double negatives.
3. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
4. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
5. Do not put statements in the negative form.
6. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
7. No sentence fragments.
8. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
9. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
10. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
12. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
13. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
14. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
15. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
16. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
17. Write all adverbial forms correct.
18. Don't use contractions in formal writing.
19. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
20. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
21. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
22. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
23. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
24. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
25. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
26. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
27. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
28. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
29. Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
30. Always pick on the correct idiom.
31. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks.""'
32. The adverb always follows the verb.
33. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

The Fumblerules are supposed to be a joke and make you laugh. But here's the rub: they contain a lot of great advice. As writers, most of these are things we should try our damnedest to avoid doing. While you might chuckle at, say, Fumblerule #28, maybe you'll recall it when you see a long string of alliteration in your own writing.

Other Fumblerules, maybe attributable to Safire, exist. My favorite of those is "eschew obfuscation." I saw that on a bumper sticker once. Never have I wanted a bumper sticker more than I wanted that one.

Safire's Fumblerules of Grammar are concise and excellent to look at every now and again to make sure you're not falling into bad habits.

I'll close with this joke I heard about Safire: William Safire walks into Burger King and orders two Whoppers Junior.

Happy writing.


  1. Oh this is great Tom :) All my mistakes in one list! :D

  2. Very nice list. It even gives an example of each! I need to keep this one where I can get to it easily.

  3. Yes, the Fumblerules are great. :) I like to review them periodically, partially for a chuckle but also because they remind me of things I should try to avoid doing. This list is a lot easier to get thru than Strunk and White.