Some Grammatical Errors That Aren’t

Don’t you love all the rules we have for grammar? One thing you learn early on in elementary school is that for every rule, there is an exception–or two or three. All you have to do is say aloud these words that seem like they should be pronounced the same: cough, though, through, enough, trough, tough, and though. That just about sums up the silliness and inconsistencies of the English language.

With that said, here are a few “rules” that are no longer rules. Yes, you have permission to break them. Times have changed. If enough people ignore the rules, after a while they won’t be observed any more. Or something like that.

  • Never split an infinitive. Meaning you are supposed to keep the “to” with the infinitive form of the verb. The famous example of rule-breaking is the line from the opening of the old Star Trek show: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The rule would require it to be rewritten to “to go [keeping the “to” with the verb] boldly.” But does it matter? No. So feel free to blatantly ignore [I just did right here–do you see?] the rule.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition. Go ahead. I mean, seriously–what rule book is this from? What’s it leading to? Isn’t this something we can just get through? See, there’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition. I always like the funny way of making this point: “A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Never begin a sentence with a conjunction. In case you don’t recall what those are, use FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. So feel free to use them to start a sentence. But don’t do it all the time. Or your writing will sound a bit choppy. Or not. So what?

Got any rules you like to break in your writing? I’ll bet you’re not the only one.

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  1. I would revise rule # two: Never end a sentence with a superfluous preposition–and I think that rule should stand. I am referring to the obnoxious “Where’s the dog at?” preposition.

  2. Generally a stickler for grammar rules (I’m a former English teacher), I enjoy breaking them sometimes! I play around with comma usage, depending on the pace of the piece. For example, I might join elements of a compound sentence with “and” instead of commas to create a sense that the action is indeed “running on.” I break all the rules you mention, but intentionally and sparingly.

  3. I’m frustrated by the singular “they.” As in, “Someone, somewhere, is having the best day of their life.” (from a Facebook poster.)

    I think it’s rooted in feminism, frankly. If we don’t know the gender of the person in question, we can’t dare say “his” and no one wants to go the “his/her” route. So we just say “their.”

    It sickens me. Especially when I do it. 🙂

    1. Why, or why? 🙂 In many languages, including old English, the plural form of a pronoun referring to a person is a sign of respect. Shakespearean “you” vs “thou.”

    2. I just rewrite the sentence so it isn’t an issue. In fiction writing you can always do that. In academic writing I’ve started seeing text books that just alternate, sometimes using ‘his’ and sometimes using ‘her.’ I think it’s great. I just wrote a blog post about the importance of gender neutral language. 🙂

  4. Thanks for these! I am so tired of avoiding the split infinitive or correcting it with “with which” or worse.

    The rule I’d like to see go by the wayside is “who/whom.” I have to look up the rule every time.

  5. Regarding split infinitives, I’ll sometimes allow a single word to sneak in: “to [boldly] go”; otherwise, I rewrite it so that the writing is more concise.

    And what about fragments? Sometimes they’re the necessary punch that a piece of writing needs.

  6. I’m laughing here because I’m taking a break from editing a manuscript, incorporating changes based on a beta reader’s comments. And she has corrected all of these things (i.e., going by the rules) even in people’s thoughts (she does get it that dialogue is exempt).

    I’m definitely a rule breaker but I agree that one should do it with forethought and not go overboard.

    1. I just finished reading The House I Loved (excellent) by Tatiana De Rosnay (of Sarah’s Key fame). She breaks lots of writing rules (many short sentences, fragments, sentences that begin with conjunctions, and even some commas splices). But Rose Bazelet (the main character) is writing a letter, stream of consciousness style, to her late husband, using the familiar homey voice she used with him when he was alive. She tells a tragic tale, and she tells it simply, in her own honest voice. “Correct” writing would not work here.
      Letter writing, novel writing, formal academic writing…all of these have rules. Letter writing and novel writing can be less formal and more flexible than academic writing. As usual, rules in writing depend greatly on your audience and your purpose.
      We learn the rules in elementary school, then learn to break them effectively by reading extensively.

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