Phony rules

In the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine, a brief piece by Patricia T. O’Conner & Stewart Kellerman on phony rules of grammar:

Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar is Wrong

And ending sentences with a preposition is nothing worth worrying about

Think of the piece as a maximally condensed version of their 2009 book Origins of  the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language.

The Smithsonian piece picks on three very popular phony rules: the prohibition against ending a sentence with a preposition, the prohibition against beginning a sentence with a conjunction (I get mentioned in connection with this one), and the prohibition against split infinitives. Pat and Stewart note that these three get so much press, and seem to be so unvanquishable, because they’re so easy to apply, even if you’re none too sure what a preposition, conjunction, or infinitive is.

And they advise:

As bloggers at and former New York Times editors, we’ve seen otherwise reasonable, highly educated people turn their writing upside down to sidestep imaginary errors. There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.

Their rule of thumb isn’t infallible, but it’s a start.


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