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February 23, 2012

Some Grammar Rules That Aren't

Language is as frustrating as it is fascinating. Some rules make sense all the time, and some make sense sometimes. Some rules might seem arbitrary and with some rules, an alert reader can see why this rule might be essential or made...

...more sense in another time.

Here are just a few rules that don't make as much sense as they used to - or were meant to.

It helps to keep in mind that there are two approaches to grammar: Prescriptive; how a language should be used and Descriptive, which describes how a language is actually used. With that dynamic tension in mind, here are some rules to, at least, keep in mind as you use - or violate them.

Never split an infinitive.

It isn’t wise to always ignore this rule governing dividing the elements of the verb phrase “to (verb)” with an adverb, but to blindly follow it is to lose memorable phrase possibilities— one of the best known is from the introductory voice-over from the original Star Trek television series: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Never end a sentence with a preposition.
This rule is ridiculous, to start with. If you believe it, tell me where you are from. What are you striving for? Give it up. Am I getting my point across?

The stricture against closing sentences with words that describe position (hence the term - pre-position) stems from an eighteen-century obsession with the supposed perfection of classic Latin, which allowed no split infinitives — for the excellent reason that Latin infinitives consist of single words. English, though largely derived from Latin, has its own word forms - and rules.

Though the original is disputed, Winston Churchill supposedly said “The rule which forbids ending a sentence with a preposition is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”

I couldn't agree more.

As always, send us any words or phrases that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Posted by mmorf at February 23, 2012 11:05 PM


Don't worry about forgetting grammar. The mere fact that you are speaking English means that grammar is constantly being applied and memory is constantly being stimulated. It is fantastic that you are taking the time to teach your students Accent Reduction. With today's global workforce bringing together all the diverse speakers of English as a second language, it is vital that one's accent be understood. An understandable accent will make the difference in their job success. Cudos to you!

Posted by: Carolyn at March 16, 2012 03:46 AM

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