Five Grammar “Rules” That Aren’t.

To paraphrase the great grammarian, Captain Jack Sparrow, many bits of grammar you’ve been taught in school are more like guidelines than actual rules.  There are some grammatical things that you may think are set in stone, but language isn’t set in stone.  It’s a living thing, changing with how people use the language.  Here are five rules that you may have been taught can never, ever be changed – but can totally be changed.

No Conjunctions to Start Sentences

Never start a sentence with “and” or “but”, they tell you.  But, honestly, it sounds perfectly natural in certain circumstances.  It’s a throwback to old, 18th century grammar rules, but in modern English, sentences starting with conjunctions are entirely natural, especially if it’s in an opinion article, or in something creative like a novel or poem.  However, you’ll still find pushback against this in academic writing or school writing – the more formal you are, the less acceptable it is to start your sentence with a conjunction.  Still, this is changing – and it’s totally fine to use this when writing casually.

No Prepositions to End Sentences

Apparently, the first and last words of sentences are very special, and some words just can’t fit in.  The rule that prepositions can’t end sentences isn’t actually an English rule at all – it’s a Latin rule.  It was shoehorned into English during the Renaissance when people wanted to legitimize the language – and the most cultured language they could think of at the time was Latin.  Well, English doesn’t come from Latin – it’s Germanic – and the rules that worked for Plato don’t work in our language.  So feel free to say “who did you go to the movies with” or “will you come inside”.

Commas Go Where You Breathe

This may come as a shock to some grammar teachers, but not all written things are meant to be read out loud. Kids are often taught to put commas where you would naturally pause when speaking, but that a) has nothing to do with the grammar of the sentence and b) is inconsistent because people talk differently!  Commas have several uses – marking spaces between grammatical structures or clauses used for grammatical effect.  The human need for oxygen is not one of them.

 Adjectives Make Your Writing Better

I’ll just quote Mark Twain, one of history’s greatest writers, on this one:

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable.”

Adverbs End in “LY”

No, they don’t.  Well, some do – many, even – but if you assume every word that ends with ly is an adjective, you’re going to have a bad time.

Tomorrow can be an adjective.  So can there and deep – whenever a word is giving more information about a verb, it’s an adverb.  None of those words end in ly.

Similarly, silly, wobbly, early, deadly, yearly – these all end in ly, but they are adjectives, not adverbs!

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