We here at Jaffe talk a lot about the evolution of the legal industry, but change is not unique to our marketplace. In fact, the entire English language is a constantly shifting construct. A sentence construction or word choice that our grade school teachers might once have considered grammatical sacrilege might now be the acceptable status quo.

As a legal marketer, it’s important that you are up to date on the latest in sentence structure, word choice and punctuation rules. Not only will your knowledge ensure accuracy in your business communications, but it also will facilitate the principal purpose of writing – to be clearly understood by your audience. That’s why I am providing you with examples of English grammar rules that have gone the way of the dinosaur.

  • Two spaces good, one space bad: The issue of how many spaces to use after a period is so contentious that I have seen editor friends of mine become enemies in the blink of an eye. The truth is, however, that one space after a period is the proper format. While it was true that two spaces were the norm, that was literally more than 40 years ago. If you are still double-tapping the spacebar after you complete a sentence, you need to try to break that habit.
  • “Because” should never start a sentence: I abhor this rule that my teachers instilled in me in grade school. You certainly can start a sentence with “because.” Granted, it should be used in a dependent clause that is joined to an independent clause via a comma. For example, “Because I sprained my ankle, I could not run in the race.” See? Perfectly acceptable in a grammatical sense, and it creates an interesting structure.
  • Always use “more than” instead of “over”: This is a new one, though for many of you, the original rule was probably unknown anyway. But the truth is, according to the AP Style Guide, you formerly should never have said “over 1 million served” or “over a billion metric tons.” Instead, a writer was supposed to use “more than.” However, as of this year, the AP changed its attitude and decided to become agnostic when it comes to the use of these two phrases. So feel free to use either “over” or “more than” interchangeably.
  • Impact is exclusively a noun: While it will annoy grammarians if you use impact as a verb – as in “How will our marketing strategy impact sales?” – the truth is that it has become commonly accepted for people, particularly those in a white-collar business setting, to use impact either as a noun or a verb. That said, if seeing “impact” used as action language unnerves you, you can always exchange it for “affect” instead.
  • Passive voice is always wrong: There is no arguing that passive voice is not the ideal sentence construction at least 90 percent of the time. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and you find them frequently in the legal context. Specifically, if the thing that is being affected by the action is more important than the ones doing the action, then passive voice can be acceptable. This is often seen in write-ups regarding new legislation or legal decisions, as in “The bill was passed by Congress” or “The decision was made by the Supreme Court.” While you could flip both of these sentences around to give them an active structure, it could be argued that leading with the bill or the decision is the better option because of the emphasis the writer wishes to express.  

Do you have any grammar rules that you think are ready to be put out to pasture? Are business communications ready for “LOLs” and emoticons? Leave a comment or contact Terry M. Isner at tisner@jaffepr.com