Your old English teacher

In Business Writing, there are lots of people who don't seem to realise that they are no longer writing for their old English teacher!

I hear it all the time:                                                                                                                            

  • You can't start a sentence with the word 'and'.
  • I would never start a sentence with 'because'.
  • You can't end a sentence with a preposition.

Well, I hate to tell you this. But in 2010 you have now been out of school for five or ten or twenty years. Or more. And you can forget your old English teacher. Most of those rules were wrong! And there is no need to live by them any longer.

In Business Writing, what we are trying to do is communicate effectively. The previous sentence began with 'and'. Was there a problem? Since you are still reading, my guess is that there was no problem. It communicated to you.

Then we come to the rule about commas.

Did your old English teacher say that you should never have a comma before 'and'?

This is a classic. And again, it is wrong.

A comma before 'and' is wrong sometimes, but not always. Look at this example:

Andy used these colours when he painted his new house: monza red, white gloss and rosemary heather and thunder grey.

As it is written, Andy may have used two, three or four colours. There is no way of knowing for sure. But if you put a comma after the word 'heather' the meaning is much clearer. In fact the colours were:

Monza red
White gloss and rosemary heather
Thunder grey

With a comma before 'and' it reads:

Andy used these colours when he painted his new house: monza red, white gloss and rosemary heather, and thunder grey.

Putting a common before 'and' is a good idea if it helps to clarify the meaning. That seems like common sense to me.