Wordplay is a blog project featuring posts from students enrolled in ENG 320 Grammar and Linguistics (Fall 2019)

Controversial Grammar Rules

by Brooke Kuehn

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How often do you really think about the grammar you use every day? Hardly ever. We tend to just write whatever comes to our minds and not think of how it looks on the paper. There are so many different grammar rules that I didn’t even know were rules. The oxford comma, starting a sentence with however, and punctuations inside quotations marks. All of those examples are common grammar rules that we don’t think about when writing. They are also some of the most controversial grammar rules as well.


Let’s start with talking about the oxford comma. In grammar terms this is an optional     comma before the word “and” at the end of a list. For example, “I want to thank my parents, John, and Lisa.”. In this sentence, they add a comma after John. When I write this sentence, I write it as, “I want to thank my parents, John and Lisa.”. I don’t put a comma after John. I feel when it comes to the oxford comma rule it is a rule that can be broken. There is a big debate on whether to keep it or let it go. In my opinion, it is a personal preference and neither one is correct or wrong.


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The next grammar rule I want to talk about is the “however rule.” This rule states that you should never start a sentence with the word “however.” This is a rule that I am 50/50 on. I believe that you can use it but I understand why they say not to. In the sentence to the left they use howevern the beginning of the sentence. I would say that this could be considered using it correctly since there is a comma after the words. The logic behind this rule is for your writing to sound more mature. In the sentence, “However, Holden acts like a child.”, the however is in the beginning using a comma afterwards. This sentence is fine in my opinion. You could make it better, though. Change the sentence structure a bit so the sentence goes “Holden, however, also acts like a child.”  This sentence was just modified a bit and it makes you seem much more educated in your writing.

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Finally, punctuation inside quotation marks. Depending where you are from decides if this is or isn’t a rule. Using a punctuation inside the sentence is only used in American. When we go to write a sentence, this rule is just commonly taught in schools. Most of us know that we always put punctuation inside the quotation marks. For example, the quote, “Tacos sound great for supper.” has a period at the end of the sentence. This is considered one of the most controversial grammar rules based on that fact that only America has this rule.


Each of the rules above are considered to be controversial because it is left up to opinion, or where you are from. The oxford comma is constantly being debated between grammarians who have an opinion and neither side seems to be budging on the subject. Using however in the beginning of a sentence is a battle between using however or nevertheless. Putting punctuation inside quotation marks is only controversial because it is done only in America. It is controversial on the international level. Each has their own reasons for sparking a debate and each will continue to be debated on for some time to come.




Brooke Kuehn is a senior studying K-8 education. She plans to teach 3rd to 5th grade someday. This is her second year at Chadron after transferring as a junior from McCook Community College, where she received an associates of art degree. She is from Holdrege, Nebraska, where she lives with her aunt, uncle, and their two children.


9 thoughts on “Wordplay Blog: Controversial grammar rules

  1. After reading this blog post I can truly see the controversy over each rule listed. Personally, I never understood why everyone was so upset over those small things, but that is probably because I am a rule follower. I was taught in school all of the “rules” listed above and have hardly ever strayed from them in my writing. After taking this course and reading “The Power of Babel” by John McWhorter I have realized that these rules were created to help people sound “correct” when writing, but they don’t always apply to speaking habits, cultural languages, or region. The way people speak varies so much from place to place that breaking the rules of grammar becomes normal and obviously quite controversial. I have reflected on my own speaking habits and while I still follow the rules when writing, I often break them when speaking. The controversial “however rule” is one that I break a lot of the time and nobody seems to correct me when speaking, but I would have to agree that when writing it sounds better to follow the rules.


  2. Brooke, you are definitely right, we often write quickly to put the words to paper before we forget what we want to say, and often it can come out sounding jumbled, not how we intended. You brought light to some “grammar rules”, that I guess I didn’t even realize were rules. Peyton also brings up a good point with the McWhorter reference. There were many “rules” mentioned that we can’t even decide on a definite answer of right, or wrong, or the answers are “situational”. I would say that I am a common participant when using the “however,” to begin a sentence. I think that this largely has to do with trying to sound more intelligent in writing, but I can see how your example, “Holden, however” reads better aloud. Very nice blog post!


  3. As I read this blog, I couldn’t help but think of my freshman year of college compared to my high school experience. In high school, I was told to follow a specific set of grammar rules that included two of the ones mentioned in this post. My English teacher in high school stressed the idea of using an Oxford comma and told us to never begin a sentence using, ‘however.’ This was embedded in brain when I got to college and began writing at a college level. Then, my English professor in college talked to us about how these grammar rules are all about preference. The general idea of her lecture was, “Get to know your professors and what they like. If they don’t like something you are doing in your writing, change it so you will get a better grade in their class but continue writing the way you like to outside of their class.” With these controversial rules, how does anyone even know what is ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ in college level writing if no one is on the same page about them? In my opinion, if a person can communicate their ideas and thoughts in an effective written expression, the grammar rules shouldn’t be as significant as we make them. Personally, I love beginning a sentence with, ‘however.’ It is a great transition to give the reader a second perspective on the topic. Maybe I could structure my use of it in a better manner if I were to use a semicolon, but then this could cause me to use a run-on sentence. However, I am a very convinced that the Oxford comma is a big deal. The use or lack of an Oxford comma in a sentence has the potential to drastically change the meaning. It is better to be safe than sorry and just use it.


  4. It is very true that we tend to just write whatever comes to our minds and not think of how it looks on our paper. There are so many grammar rules that I didn’t even know about. Who wants to stop and think of all the different grammar rules when writing a paper? I’ll be honest, I don’t. That takes to much time and work. I agree with the “however rule” I remember being taught that in elementary. I think it should weird to start a sentence with however. I have always used however in a sentence like this “I can’t play tennis: however, I’ll still what it. That is how I was taught and I think it sounds the best. That is one grammar rule that has stuck with me since I was taught them in elementary and junior high. Great job on your blog!


  5. I really like your post over some the most controversial rules in grammar. I especially liked that you mentioned the oxford comma in your list of grammar rules. I am super picky when it comes to the oxford comma when I am writing. I always use the comma when I am listing things, but I like the example that you used in your blog post. I thought your second grammar rule was interesting to read about as well. I tend to start sentences with “however” a lot, and I should try to limit the amount of times I do that. Your final grammar rule was enlightening. I guess I didn’t realize that America was the only place that used punctuation in quotation marks. This is an interesting rule that I knew nothing about. I really like how you ended your blog post by stating that the debate about all of these rules is not likely to end any time soon. Great post!


  6. I did not know that these rules were so controversial. There are so many different grammar rules that are supposed to be used when writing that it’s hard to think about them while you are writing your thoughts down. I would agree that the oxford comma rule can be broken as I don’t like this rule! I think that whatever looks and sounds right is what should be used. I would agree that the word however can be used in the beginning of a sentence if you use it correctly. It can also be used in the middle of a sentence and sometimes it can even sound better. I did not know that people in America are the only one who put the punctuation inside the quotation. It’s crazy to me that there can be a rule but you can either abide by it or not depending on where you live. Great blog post!


  7. I really liked your post! I definitely did not know that these rules were so controversial. I have always thought that the oxford comma rule only applied to lists containing more than two objects/terms, for example “I have a dog, a cat, and a bird.” As a result, I have always used that comma in a list of three items but never when there is only two items. I do not really understand the controversy behind the rule though because in my eyes, ““I want to thank my parents, John, and Lisa.”, looks wrong, but that is just me! As for the however rule, I have always felt that starting a sentence with ‘however’ was correct and sounded more intelligent. I have never realized that there were people who felt that it was incorrect to use the term at the beginning of a sentence! Finally, in terms of punctuation in quotations, I grew up being taught that you only place the puncuation in the quotation marks if it is a question mark or an exclamation point, or if the sentence is going to end after the last quotation mark. For example, ‘”I just ate pizza,” Jody said.’ does not put the period in the quotation marks because the sentence does not end after the last quotation. I guess I just grew up learning that way and have never been exposed to the other view on these rules! Overall, this was a great post!


  8. This was such a fun read! I really liked how you compared how you write to the official “rules” of grammar. I have always liked rules, especially in grammar, since I could immediately understand if they were right or wrong. There were a few rules that I hadn’t really remembered, but then was quickly refreshed. I find it interesting how language and writing can be written so many ways, but still have the same meaning. Although, using the however in different parts of the sentence was a great exercise to show the importance and overall flare of a writing. Sometimes when I write, I really have to listen to myself say whatever I need to, and then I can decide on where the word placement is to add that emphasis. I really learned a lot from your post, and it definitely got me thinking on how I write. Great post!


  9. There are relatively few instances where the lack of an Oxford comma ruins the meaning of a sentence, but I would personally prefer to stay in the habit of using it rather than looking like a fool by leaving it out where it was clearly necessary. As far as “however” goes, I don’t mind using it at the beginning of a sentence like any other conjunctive adverb.


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