Alte Underwood Schreibmaschine

Image Credit: "Alte Underwood Schreibmaschine" by Peter Mayr

When I was a college student back at Auburn University in the 1980s, my father mailed me a typewritten list he had prepared on his Underwood typewriter. This was a list of some “rules” of grammar that he thought were humorous. I agreed. (We were both word nerds.)

Though I don’t have the specific original sources for each of these, I believe that they all came from William Safire. Some of them are from his “On Language” column in the New York Times, while others are from his book Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage. Enjoy!

  1. Help stamp out and eliminate redundancies.
  2. Don’t use no double negatives.
  3. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  4. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  5. Surly grammarians insist that all words ending in “ly” are adverbs.
  6. Avoid colloquial stuff.
  7. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  8. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  9. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
  10. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
  11. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  12. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  13. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
  14. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
  15. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  16. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns on their writing.
  17. A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.
  18. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  19. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; use viable alternatives.


One Response to Word Nerds Unite: 19 of William Safire’s Best Fumblerules of Grammar

  1. […] the Yahoo Style Guide, I learned some key yet simple concepts. As Professor Nixon states in “Word Nerds Unite: 19 of William Safire’s Best Fumblerules of Grammar” it is important to “avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.” Run-on […]