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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.

All Confused Enquire Here

You’ve probably seen these two words used in the same ways: inquire and enquire. So, is there a difference?

These are basically two spellings of the same word, which means to seek information about something or to conduct a formal investigation (usually when followed by “into”). The corresponding noun is enquiry or inquiry. Not surprisingly, enquire and enquiry are more common in British English, and inquire and inquiry are more common in US English. However, the Guardian (a British newspaper) tells writers to “use inquiry” and the Oxford English Dictionary seems to recognize inquire as the more dominant form. (My WordPress spell-checker keeps tagging enquire as an incorrect word, for example.)

I say not surprisingly because with many words there is a slight difference in preference depending on whether you are using UK or US style. I wonder how all those words got a little skewed, and I’m often amused (as I’m sure my UK counterparts are as well) when I hear on TV (or should I say “the tele”?) British speakers pronouncing words on the “wrong” syllable. For example, the word  controversy, which “across the pond” is pronounced con-TROV-ersy

So, you decide which word to use in the case of enquire and inquire. Just be consistent and go with the preferred word for the style of the country you are writing in (or for).

The Past Has Passed

Yes, I see a bit of confusion regarding past and passed. These two words are often misused, but it’s not all that hard to know which to use in a sentence. If you keep in mind that passed is almost always a verb, you won’t get steered wrong (but there are some exceptions, which I’ll mention below).

The word past, though, can function in a whole lot of different ways in a sentence.

  • Past can be a noun: I miss those old movies they had in the past.
  • Past can also be an adjective: Those days are now past. Remember, adjectives modify a noun, so you would use past when you say, “All the past governors were terrible.”
  • Past can be a preposition: It’s half past six.
  • Past can be an adverb: The ball soared past the goalie.

When you need a verb, use passed. Look at the difference between these two sentences:

  • The man walked past the store.
  • The man passed the store.

It’s easy to see why the two can get confused. But just remember the “verb” rule.

Now, of course, time to break the rules, as is so common in the English language and what makes it all so fun (sigh).

Here are some unusual usages for passed as a noun or adjective:

  • “Don’t speak ill of the passed”—This comes from the phrase “passed-away.”
  • “A passed pawn”—A term used in chess.
  • “A passed ball”—A term used in baseball.
  • “A passed midshipman/fireman/surgeon”—Someone who has passed a period of instruction and qualified through examination; apparently this usage arose in the Navy.

So if you used to mess these up and now are clear, good for you. Forget your past mistakes; the past has passed and is now past.