5 Grade-School Grammar Rules Worth Breaking
Did we just say that?
Most of us learned the rules of writing in grade school and have done our best to stay true to them ever since. Here’s the thing though: rules change. English is a living language that evolves the longer it sticks around. That’s why the dictionary is always adding words like “foodie” and “bingeable” and “fave” and “mocktail.” It’s also why the rules that you learned as a fourth grader don’t necessarily apply any more.
Here are a few of the grade-school grammar rules that you should feel free to break:
Never start a sentence with “if, and, or, but” …no ifs, ands, or buts about it!
Many teachers told their students to never start a sentence with a conjunction. The Guardian suggests that this is because teachers were trying to educate their pupils about sentence fragments. Once that lesson is learned, though, there’s no real need to adhere to the rule as it’s more about style than grammar. It’s perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with any of the above.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
For years, this rule turned perfectly normal sentences into painfully stilted ones. Like in this anecdote of Winston Churchill saying, “This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” As Grammar Girl writes, there are some cases where ending a sentence with a preposition will make the sentence cleaner and clearer, for example a sentence like, “Where did this delightful tea cozy come from?” In formal English it would require, “From where did this delightful tea cozy come?” which just sounds odd to modern ears. In modern language usage, there is no reason to stick to this rule, unless you are writing something particularly formal.
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Whom vs who
Author Calvin Trillin once wrote, "As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler." It’s inherently formal and when people throw it into the mix they sound, well, like a butler. That said, “whom” does have its place, however that place is rapidly dwindling and is now primarily used in formal occasions and fixed expressions like “To whom it may concern” and “with whom do you wish to speak, and as The Guardian notes, in double questions like "Who's dating whom?” Otherwise, “who” will suffice lest you end up sounding like Groucho Marx who once replied to a question, “Whom knows?”
You must type two spaces after a period.
This rule came out because of the way typewriters worked when letters had a uniform width and looked cramped with without extra space after the period. Computers, laptops, and smartphones don’t have the same issue, though, so there’s no longer any reason to double tap the space bar after you type a period—the computer does it for you.
Never split infinitives.
This is a holdover from Latin, and since very few people speak Latin these days, the rules can be bent. “In Latin, an infinitive is a single word; it literally cannot be split,” according to The Write Life. ”But English’s two-word infinitives can, so why shouldn’t they be?”