Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hear, Hear! 10 Grammar Myths Debunked

If you don't read the Boston Globe's grammar column, The Word, you're missing out on some great grammar-geek stuff. The always-excellent Jan Freeman recently wrote a piece entitled "Un-rules" that debunks 10 common language-usage myths. It should be required reading for every English teacher and student. I just love this excerpt:
Fake language rules can come from respected sources, but that’s no reason to believe them. As Kathryn Schulz explains in her new book, “Being Wrong,” people don’t know that they’re misinformed: Being wrong, after all, feels just like being right. But learning to write is hard enough without the burden of following non-rules. So let’s lighten the load a bit, starting with 10 usage topics that deserve a good leaving alone.
Do read the whole column. In a nutshell, these are Freeman's 10 assertions:
  1. None are? None is? Both are correct.
  2. The girl that I marry. It's not necessary to say "whom I marry."
  3. Since you asked. It's not necessary to say "because."
  4. Healthy vs. healthful. It's okay to use "healthy" when describing non-living things.
  5. Till vs. 'til. "Till" was there first.
  6. Verbing nouns. We've been doing it for thousands of years, so let's get over it.
  7. "And" can start a sentence. So can "but" and "however."
  8. Misspelled is not misused. Spelling goofs aren't comprehension glitches.
  9. The adverb can be "wrong." It's okay to use non "-ly" words as adverbs.
  10. You only live once. It's okay to place "only" before a verb.
I love Freeman's common-sense approach to using language and readily agree with almost all of her "un-rules." Admittedly, I had a knee-jerk reaction against two cases, but I'll keep an open mind about the possibility that I'm being too rigid. Not to get all Oprah on you, but here are two things I know for sure: The English language is a dynamic, ever-changing beast; and there's not always a definitive "right" answer to every grammar question.

What's your take on these "un-rules"?

(Photo courtesy of Valeriana Solaris/Flickr Creative Commons)

Also by Jan Freeman:


  1. As a PhD student in a writing-heavy program, I find that my professors are not up-to-date on the un-rules or the grammar myths. I get points off for starting sentences with "and," or "but," and for verbing nouns ("jargon"). So many times, they're just plain WRONG, and it's so frustrating, because citing sources to prove it doesn't reflect well on future assignments!!

  2. I sympathize wholeheartedly. You always have to know your audience. If you're writing for a professor (or an employer or client) who is a stickler for old-school ways, you've got no choice but to conform. Standing your ground is not as satisfying as getting a good grade. Still, you can rest assured that you'd be backed up by an army of copy editors.

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  4. Here's my reply to my students: When you begin making a living wage with your writing, then you will be in the best position to know when to begin a sentence with "And" and when not to. Until then, you'd do well to refrain from doing so.

  5. Really this is good guide for the students of The Snarky to learn Grammar. I hope they feel so easy to use the guide and they find more success in study.