More grammar “rules” that were meant to be brokenPosted: September 18, 2014
(I seem to be very rules-adverse lately. Check out my previous post, Breaking grammatical rules–why not?)
Both my husband and my students have had occasion to think about grammatical rules lately. My students are revising projects to hand in for a grade; my husband is completing a dissertation. Both types of writing place value on correct grammar, but there are some things you just don’t need to stress over.
For years, I was under the impression that there was a rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. I’ve since learned that it is more a matter of style, going back to an attempt to Latin-ize everything back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In fact, according to Oxford Dictionaries, there are times that an ending preposition is completely appropriate:
- passive structures (she enjoys being fussed over)
- relative clauses (they must be convinced of the commitment that they are taking on)
- infinitive structures (Tom had no one to play with)
- questions beginning with who, where, what, etc. (what music are you interested in?)
Another “rule” concerns the split infinitive. The famous Star Trek example (“To boldly go where no man has gone before”) is arguably weakened when the adverb gets moved (“To go boldly where no man has gone before”). Once again, the attempt to turn English into Latin is at the heart of this rule.
There are times when a split infinitive avoids ambiguity. In the sentence. As Oxford Dictionaries points out:
You really have to watch him. [i.e. ‘It’s important that you watch him’]
doesn’t have quite the same meaning as:
You have to really watch him. [i.e. ‘You have to watch him very closely’].
Because split infinitives tend to tick people off, experts recommend avoiding the split infinitive in professional writing, including job application letters.
But don’t let anyone tell you that there is a “rule” against split infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition. Rules like that are meant to thoroughly be broken…er, you know what I am getting at.
Another entertaining read about grammar “rules” is available at grammarphobia.com