The 15 Toughest English Writing Rules

In this article, online tutor Natalie S. shares her best tricks for remembering some of the toughest English writing rules…

Grammar isn’t for everyone. In fact, most people tend to forget the majority of their English grammar and punctuation lessons by the time they graduate from high school. Even though grammar tends to be a boring subject to learn about, it’s still important to understand and utilize grammar and punctuation rules correctly. These seemingly small details make a big difference in the quality of your writing.

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If you’re a student, you know that writing in English can be tough. There are so many rules to follow, and it’s easy to make mistakes. But don’t worry – we’re here to help! In this blog post, we’ll share some of the toughest English writing rules, and give you some tips on how to avoid making common mistakes.

Below are a few tips to help you easily navigate some of the trickiest grammar, punctuation, and overall English writing rules!

What are the 10 Grammar Rules?

english writing rules

10 English writing rules that are important to memorize involve:

  • Semi colonies
  • Fewer vs less
  • Who vs. whom
  • Its vs it’s
  • Writing in active voice
  • Ambiguous pronouns
  • Commas
  • Writing numbers
  • Capitalization
  • Verb tenses

Of course, if you are hoping to master the standard American English rules of writing, Unfortunately, there are far more than 10 English writing rules you’ll need to memorize (don’t even get me started on English idioms and expressions!). However, these are the most important simple English writing rules to get you started.

Feeling overwhelmed? Signing up for online English lessons can help, as working with a tutor will provide you with the structure and tailored support you need in order to be successful in your writing. Your lessons will cover topics like those you see in the video below:

15th Basic English Grammar Rules for Writing

english writing rules

Here are some simple English writing rules. Good luck mastering them all!

1. Semi-colons

Ah, the semi-colon. This is one of the most difficult English writing punctuation rules to remember!

This is one of the most abused and misused punctuation marks in the English language. Semi-colons are used to connect two complete sentences (often called independent clauses) into one sentence.

For example, “I went to the beach; it was too hot.” This single sentence shares one common idea (the beach) and contains one complete sentence on either side of the semi-colon. Pro tip: Try to split your sentence into two complete thoughts. If you cannot do it, a semi-colon doesn’t belong in your sentence.

2. Fewer Vs. Less

“Fewer” means a quantifiable number. For example, “I had three fewer items than Tom.” “Less” is used in a non-quantifiable situation, such as “I was less sad after eating chocolate.” Pro tip: If you can attach a number to the sentence and it still makes sense, you should be using the word “fewer.”

3. Who Vs. Whom

“Who” is a subjective pronoun, whereas “whom” is an objective pronoun. Pro tip: If the word, “he” can be substituted into the sentence, use “who.” If the word “him” can be substituted into the sentence, use “whom.” For example, “Who went to the store? He went to the store.” “She bought an apple for whom? She bought an apple for him.”

4. Its Vs. It’s

This is one of the easiest English writing rules to remember, but it’s still one of the most common mistakes that people make. “Its” is possessive. For example, “The cat licked its paw.” “It’s” stands for “it’s” and it’s an abbreviation. Pro tip: To remember which one to use, try replacing the phrase with “it is.” Does the sentence still make sense? If yes, then you use “it’s.” If no, then use the possessive “its.”

5. Writing in Active Voice

Avoid sentences like, “Bob was chased by the crowd.” Instead, write, “The crowd chased Bob.” The first example illustrates passive voice. The second sentence is an example of active voice. Using active voice makes your writing more compelling to read. Pro tip: If you can insert the phrase “by zombies” at the end of your sentence and it makes sense, you are using passive voice! For example, “Bob was chased by zombies.”

6. Ambiguous Pronouns

Pronouns can be used in place of nouns to make your writing flow better. For example, start with these three sentences: “Nancy went to the store. Nancy bought ice cream. Nancy bought oranges.” To make it flow, we use pronouns in place of Nancy: “Nancy went to the store and she bought ice cream and oranges.” When using pronouns, be careful to avoid the ambiguous pronoun. For example, “Sarah went to Jenny’s house for a party. She had cake.” The pronoun “she” in the second sentence is ambiguous.

Pro tip: Ask yourself questions like, “Who had cake? Was it Sarah or Jenny?” to figure out how to correct the sentence. Technically, Jenny is the “she” in this sentence, but considering that the subject of the sentence is Sarah, the writer is actually intending to use “she” in place of “Sarah.” It should say something like, “Sarah went to Jenny’s house for a party, and she enjoyed eating the birthday cake.”

7. Comma Rules in English Writing

Commas should be used as follows:

  • To separate independent clauses when they are joined by coordinating conjunctions
  • After introductory phrases, clauses, or words that come before the main clause
  • In the middle of a sentence to set off words, phrases, and clauses that are essential to the sentence’s meaning
  • To separate three or more words, clauses, and phrases
  • When separating two or more coordinate adjectives describing the same noun
  • To set off geographical names, addresses, titles in names, and items in dates

Commas should not be used to set off essential elements of the sentence, like clauses beginning with “that.”

8. Writing Numbers in English Rules

Numbers up to nine should always be written out in words. Anything higher than nine should be written in numerals.

There are some variations on this depending on what kind of style guide you are following. For example, some say that if you can write the number in two words or less, use words instead of numerals.

However, the first one tends to be the general rule.

9. English Capitalization Rules

Capitalization can be tricky, but it’s important.

All names should be capitalized, as well as days of the week and months. The following should also be capitalized:

  • The first word of a sentence
  • Names and proper nouns
  • The first word of a quote (usually)
  • Most words in a title
  • Cities, languages, nationalities, and countries
  • Time periods and events (usually)

Don’t capitalize after a colon and don’t capitalize seasons.

10. Verb Tenses

Mastering verb tenses should be one of the first steps you take when learning any language – especially English.

Here is some more information on the many English verb tenses and how to master them.

11. Subject-Verb Agreement Rules

Subjects and verbs must agree. They have to be in the same person and number.

For example, you can’t use the third person “runs” if the subject is “you” – “runs” is plural and “you” is singular.

12. Adjective and Adverb Order Rules

Keep an eye on the order of adjectives and adverbs in your sentences. In English, adjectives always come before the noun.

For example, you wouldn’t write, “I bought a red shirt.”

That would sound odd!

Instead, you would write, “I bought a red shirt.”

For adverbs, these come before the adjective they modify or after the verb they modify. There are some exceptions to this, but usually, this is the case.

For example:

  • Mary writes beautifully.
  • He is a very intelligent young man.

13. English Connector Rules

Connectors, also known as linking words, are used to connect sentences and phrases, making your writing sound more natural and elegant.

If you don’t use connectors, you’ll find that the writing you produce does not sound natural at all.

Examples include “but”, “and”, “so,” and so on.

14. Negation and Double Negation

Negation is incredibly tricky for ESL students to master. The basics are this:

Two negatives should not be used to make a positive. There are some exceptions, but negatives like this should be avoided, particularly if you can use an affirmative sentence.

For example, “I don’t know no way of not getting my homework done.”

Instead, you would write, “I don’t know a way to get my homework done.”

15. Indirect Speech and Questions Rules

Indirect speech can be complicated at the beginning or when you’re translating texts to English.

Here is more information on how to master it.

Other Rules of Essay Writing in English

english writing rules

There are a few others rules of essay writing in English you’ll want to pay attention to as well.

For one, you’ve got to watch out for homonyms – this is one of the trickiest English writing spelling rules to remember, especially for ESL students. These are words that are spelled or sound identical but have totally different meanings. Spring is an example – it is the name of a season, but it can also mean a piece of twisted metal.

Similarly, you’ll also want to watch out for false friends. These are words that sound like they mean one thing but actually mean something totally different. In Spanish, an example is “embarazada,” which sounds embarrassing but actually means pregnant. Yikes – don’t make that mistake!

When writing an essay in English, it’s important to be as simple, concise, and specific as possible. Avoid long, convoluted sentences and don’t use words that you don’t know the meaning of (even if you think you’ll sound more intelligent!).

The fewer words you can use to get across the same point, the better!

English Writing Rules for Students

english writing rules

Writing assignments can be difficult; they require a lot of focused time and effort. If you remember and implement these simple tips and tricks, you will create writing that is easier to comprehend and more compelling to read.

Although following all the English writing rules may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that these guidelines are in place to help your writing be as clear and concise as possible. By taking the time to learn and understand the basics of grammar and style, you can produce high-quality content that will engage your readers.

So, before you finish your next piece, regardless of whether you are working with a formal English instructortake a few minutes to consider these tips – they just might make all the difference.

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!

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Suzy S.

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