Tired of following grammar “rules” that don’t make any sense? It will probably astound you to know that these rules you think you have to follow aren’t even real rules. They’re myths; legends passed on from generation to generation of confused writers. You don’t have to be a victim anymore.
MYTH 1: YOU SHOULD NEVER SPLIT INFINITIVES
We’ve already addressed this one more in depth. There’s nothing wrong with splitting infinitives. It’s a silly old rule made up by silly old men to make the lower class look, well, silly. Splitting an infinitive is acceptable, as long as:
- It preserves the integrity of the sentence,
- It does not change the meaning of the sentence, and
- It does not violate a rule in the style guide you are following.
MYTH 2: ENDING A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION IS WRONG
A great speaker and writer were once lectured for ending his sentences with prepositions. He responded, “Madam, this is arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” That speaker? Winston Churchill. Dig under the layers of sarcasm, and you will discover his point: if you go out of your way to not end a sentence with a preposition, you create an awkward, clumsy sentence. Following that line of thought, you would have to eliminate:
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
What are you up to?
What are you waiting for?
The rule does apply to prepositions at the end of the sentence that is redundant; that is, it repeats the thought that the phrase before it left off. Hence “Where are you at?” is the same thing as “Where are you?” The “at” is redundant of “where,” so it is incorrect.
MYTH 3: YOU SHOULD NEVER SPLIT VERB PHRASES
Splitting verb phrases (should definitely leave, will probably divorce) is not only correct, it’s also an often attractive stylistic choice for a writer. One of the most important things you as a writer can do is change the structure of your sentences around to add some spice. Throwing in some splits will liven up flat writing. Just be sure to avoid awkward splits:
He’s fixing the car that he had just five days ago bought.
MYTH 4: YOU SHOULD NEVER START A SENTENCE WITH “AND” OR “BUT”
The rule about starting sentences with “and,” “but,” “or,” and other connecting words applies to sentence fragments. Novice writers will tend to slap on a period at the end of a thought and start a new one with a connector, but that new phrase isn’t a complete sentence. For example:
I took my sister to the prom. But just the one time.
Grammatically, the phrase “But just the one time” is incorrect; it doesn’t have a subject and verb. In this case, starting a sentence with a connector is wrong. However, the rule doesn’t apply to all sentences. As long as you follow the connector with a complete sentence (subject and verb), it is perfectly acceptable.
I’m a lumberjack. And I’m okay.
MYTH 5: CONTRACTIONS ARE NOT TO BE USED IN FORMAL WRITING
Writers tend to avoid using contractions, fearing that they will be seen as too conversational and informal. Instead, these writers will write out the whole word — cannot, do not, I will let us, and it is, etc. — rather than the contractions, believing they will be viewed as more formal and professional. This misconception is one that should be abolished. Your words should be chosen based on how they affect the rhythm, length, and pace of the sentence. Often, writing out the whole word or phrase instead of the contraction makes the sentence too clunky and cumbersome to read.
I cannot lie to you, dear; I did not go to the doctor like I should have done. Do not worry; we will get the problem fixed. In the meantime, let us forget the oozing scabs and cuddle.
This is a good example of slow, awkward writing. Oozing scabs aside, does it sound more “formal”? No. It just makes it hard to read. The poor spouse of this leper would probably rather hear:
I can’t lie to you, dear; I didn’t go to the doctor like I should’ve done. Don’t worry, we’ll get the problem fixed. In the meantime, let’s forget the oozing scabs and cuddle.
I would, however, advise her against the cuddles.