The Grammar Rules That It’s Ok To Break

I know I can be a Grammar Nazi. I have to be – people pay me to be a be a Grammar Nazi! However, even I know that there are some grammar rules than practically nobody obeys. I’m not talking about using “less” when you mean “fewer”, I mean those that help language flow. Something like these…

End of Sentence Prepositions

Prepositions are not something you should end sentences with or so the joke goes. The problem is, we do it all the time and it makes more sense when we do so. It’s a rule that it has become socially acceptable to break for linguistic flow. Winston Churchill demonstrated this perfectly: Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put! Put simply, prepositions create relationships with other words. Of the two highlighted sentences here, the first sounds better whereas the other sounds stiff and a bit weird. Similarly, something as innocuous as “Shall I put the kettle on?” is grammatically incorrect (on what?). So is “He’s falling behind” – (behind what or whom?)

Beginning of Sentence Conjunctions

And then we come to this one 😛 and it’s probably the one I do the least, at least with “and” and “but”. But many of us take it for granted and use other conjunctions such as “while”, “until” and “if”. If I keep doing it, maybe you will notice how common it is and, actually, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do it when writing even though MS Word might tell you it is. While it is not grammatically correct, it doesn’t really sound problematic when writing or speaking. But why should we not do it? Because conjunctions are used to link clauses in a sentence. But you can see here that I have started all but one sentence in this paragraph with a conjunction.

Splitting Those Infinitives

Put simply, putting an adverb (mostly adverbs anyway) between “to” and a verb. Again, we do this all the time. The Star Trek moniker To Boldly Go is the most famous of them all. We do this so often that we don’t even notice we are doing it. I like splitting infinitives to emphasise a point, although I think sometimes it does feel a bit odd. Used in the right context, it usually works. It seems to a rule based on a false premise too, so it should not even be considered a rule. One common phrase I come up against in more formal writing (such as academic writing) is “to better understand”. The meaning is that we understand, but we want to understand more than we already do.

Using Contractions

I can’t, I won’t be stopped from using contractions. I really don’t see the point in pushing this rule. While it certainly sounds more conversational to say can’t rather than cannot and don’t rather than do not, but I feel these contractions are invisible to the point that they are no longer a faux pas, even in formal writing. There are some that we should avoid using though. I have never liked using I’d’ve. It’s fine in dialogue but not so much in narrative. I’d have or I would have are better. Neverthless, every day contractions seem perfectly fine in all forms of writing.

Like When You Mean As (or As If)

This is one I would rather we didn’t break, but I have moved out of the denial stage and into acceptance now. Like is a comparison of multiple objects and is therefore a preposition. As if is a conjunction. Apparently, this use of like as a preposition is not a modern bastardisation of the language. I even break this one myself when I feel that like feels better and easier than as if.  If a verb precedes it, then you should use like. “He complains like an old woman” is grammatically correct because complains is a verb and you are comparing the person to an old woman. If the verb follows, you should use as / if. Like so: “It’s as though you’re not listening”. The verb here is listening. Yet I must be honest and admit that even though I know “It’s like you’re not listening” is grammatically wrong, it’s become so common that I rarely correct it in my own writing.

What other rules do you regularly break or do you think it’s acceptable to break?


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