The top five grammar myths

Many teachers use a combination of white lies and habits to keep students’ writing focused, but many are not actually based on rules of the English language.

Here are five of the top grammar myths that people often believe about the language they love.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction
This is the perfect example of taking a lesson from school and sticking to it. My daughter was reading me a book recently and came to a sentence starting with ‘and’. She gasped and told me that you can’t start a sentence with ‘and’. Teachers give this instruction to stop students writing in fragments, but this is not actually a rule of grammar. It’s much better to avoid a long sentence full of connected independent clauses and start a sentence with a conjunction.

Ending a sentence with a preposition
The “pseudo-rule” is entirely based on a 17th century quibble between English poet John Dryden and rival poet Ben Jonson, in which Dryden mistakenly transferred a Latin rule to English. In Latin, prepositions are attached to nouns and cannot be separated from them. There are perfectly acceptable instances in English where it is appropriate to end a sentence with a preposition, for example, ‘what are you looking at?’ or ‘it’s you he is thinking of’.

Splitting infinitives
This is another pseudo-rule that owes much to falsely equating rules for Latin to the English language. The rule suggests that you cannot split the word ‘to’ from its verb. Present style and usage manuals deem simple split infinitives unobjectionable. For example, Curme’s Grammar of the English Language (1931) says that not only is the split infinitive correct, but it “should be furthered rather than censured, for it makes for clearer expression”. The Oxford Dictionaries do not regard the split infinitive as ungrammatical, but on balance consider it likely to produce a weak style and advise against its use for formal correspondence

‘That’ and ‘which’ are not interchangeable
According to the rule, non-restrictive clauses (those set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses) must be introduced by ‘which’ and restrictive clauses (those that are essential to the sentence) must be introduced by ‘that’. While this is generally a good rule to follow, Harvard linguist Steven Pinker said the rule is simply a recent invention, rather than a hard and fast rule.

Mixing active and passive voices
Many people have been taught to never mix active and passive in the same sentence. This is ridiculous. There are many occasions when it is necessary to mix the two. For example, ‘It is recommended (passive) that the committee vote (active) for the proposal’.

What grammar rules are you a stickler for? (Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition).

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